Trying to decipher what happens in the closing days of the Texas Legislature is like being picked up by a tornado and dropped in a pile of debris. It takes you days to figure out where you landed, what happened to your wallet, and whether the glow on the horizon is Oz or a burning oil tanker.
Take just one topic … say, open government. Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, estimates that more than 400 bills were filed that could affect Texas law on public records or open meetings. “And that’s not even counting all the amendments that could have been put on in the darkness during the last couple of days,” he said. The session adjourned on Monday, and Elkins thinks that by Friday he may know what was in most of the bills that passed, at least as it affects public information.
In one of those last-minute specials, legislators voted to keep confidential many of the records concerning travel by Gov. Rick Perry, which bothers those who’d like to know whether their fearless leaders are spending taxpayer dollars on luxe hotels or questionable junkets. A separate bill to remove those records from public scrutiny wasn’t going to make it through the logjam at the end of the session, so friendly House and Senate members just added the provisions to another bill. Oddly enough, the action came only days after an appellate judge ruled – in a lawsuit brought by several Texas newspapers – that most of the records were public.
“I think it was more politics than real security concerns at play,” Elkins said.
Overall, “I would say that the freedom-of-information forces prevailed” this session, he said, “especially in light of all the bad legislation that was filed.” To make sure, though, his crew will “go through every bill that was sent to the governor and do keyword searches” on any sneaky amendments that might have been tucked in.
Talk about the importance of public records.
After the Storm II
Relatives and friends of Robin O’Hagan, the popular Stockyards employee who died in a car crash on Memorial Day, circulated a petition at Tuesday’s memorial service calling for a law that would require police to test the blood of drivers involved in major crashes. Current law allows police discretion.
“They ought to take it out of the policeman’s hands,” said O’Hagan’s husband, Bill Mackey. “It would be nice to know what’s in the system of someone involved in a wreck.” Even if the law were changed, of course, drivers would still have the right to refuse to take the test.
O’Hagan was killed after her car was involved in a collision with a Hummer driven by Larry Love Jr., who has a variety of convictions dating back to the 1990s, including possession of a controlled substance and two driving-while-intoxicated convictions. The Fort Worth police officer at the scene said Love did not appear intoxicated.
“We feel cheated that no drug test was given,” said O’Hagan’s best friend, Charlene Lindstrom.
Mackey and others vow to get as many petition signatures as they can and then find a state representative to introduce a bill at the 2011 legislative session.
“We want a new law – Robin’s law,” Mackey said. “”We are her voice, and we are screaming at the top of our voices.”