Texans Need Access to Government Contracts

The Texas Freedom of Information Act is full of holes.  Companies contracting with local and state government can avoid disclosure of their deals by saying a few magic words like “trade secret.”  Two state lawmakers are trying to fix that.  The Texas Tribune reports on their efforts.

A pair of Texas lawmakers have filed legislation aiming to plug what they called major “loopholes” in public records law that have left taxpayers in the dark about key details of some contracts involving public funds.

“We are here today because I think some things have been broken – particularly in transparency and the Public Information Act,” state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said at a press conference Tuesday.

He teamed up with state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, to file legislation — two bills in each chamber — pushing back against a pair of recent controversial Texas Supreme Court rulings that immediately made it easier for those involved with government contracts with private companies to shield parts of what those contracts say.

Following those 2015 rulings, government entities have withheld a wide range of information from government contracts that had long been considered public. Such secrets include how much the City of McAllen paid pop star Enrique Iglesias to sing at a holiday parade, how many driver permits Houston had issued to the ride-hailing giant Uber and details of a Kaufman County school district’s food service deal.

“Those were big steps away from that very important ideal that the public will have the information they need to hold government accountable,” Watson said of the Supreme Court rulings. “The public has the right to know what it’s paying.”

In June 2015, the justices ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the release of information in a lease between Boeing and the Port Authority of San Antonio because the aerospace manufacturer said making the details public could tip off its competitors.

That ruling expanded the secrecy of government contracts in two key ways, experts say: by broadening an exemption in public records law used to protect the government’s competitive interests and by affirming that businesses could invoke it, too.

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