This month, TPPF’s James Quintero testified before the House Committee on State Affairs in support of House Bill 1416, a bill to strengthen the Texas Public Information Act by clarifying in statute which days constitute a business day for the purposes of responding to a requestor. The bill is currently in the Calendars Committee.
Below are his prepared remarks delivered orally to the committee.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee—
Good morning! My name is James Quintero and I represent the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I am here today to testify in favor of House Bill 1416.
One of the unfortunate facts of the last year is that open government was closed. Data and records ordinarily accessible under the Public Information Act were long denied to interested parties due to the way that governmental entities responded to the pandemic.
As we all know, many entities closed their physical offices and began operating remotely. The change in operation was appropriate early on and for a short duration, but the closed-door decision-making went on for too long. And without a mechanism to enable government transparency, the public had little hope of ensuring government accountability.
Even now, there are governmental entities that are using COVID to impede the free flow of information.
Just this morning, I visited the city of Dallas’ Public Information portal, only to be met with a COVID-19 Notice that says, in part, “…the city is unable to access its records to respond to public information requests at this time…During the period this notice is posted, the city of Dallas is not considered to be open for business for the purposes of the time deadlines under the Texas Public Information Act.”
The city of Fort Worth also offers another example. If you visit the city’s PIA portal, you’ll find that it was only last week that it resumed “normal operations”. So anyone who asked a question of the city last April should finally get their answer this April.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that, despite the fact that Dallas’ Open Records division is currently closed, the city’s adopted budget for this year shows a projected spending increase from FY 2021 to FY 2022. The city’s budget was adopted September 23, 2020.
All of this to say, that we need to strengthen our open government laws in the wake of COVID-19. To quote James Madison: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
With that said, I urge the committee to pass HB 1416. Thank you for your time and I look forward to answering any questions.