in Houston, Texas
Confidential sources, beer, ethics forms: Here's a wrap on how the bills Texas Watchdog highlighted fared in the legislature
Friday, Jul 17, 2009, 01:53PM CST
By Ann Raber
Now that the 2009 session is long gone, here's an update on the bills Texas Watchdog highlighted in stories and blog items.

Post ethics forms online: Failed

We followed HB 2496, Rep. Jim Dunnam's bill to require the state ethics commission to post officials' personal financial statements, which we have posted online so the public doesn't have to truck it up to Austin to retrieve them in person. Texas Watchdog's Jennifer Peebles argued in favor of the plan:
The law currently on the books — which requires that identifying information be recorded by the Ethics Commission by people who ask to see the forms — is outdated at best and, at worst, serves to intimidate most average citizens and keep them from asking to see the forms.

Alas, the bill went to House committee, and after early May was never heard from again.

Buy beer direct: Failed

beer

Early on a bill to buy beer direct from Texas microbreweries caught our attention. Three Democratic house members introduced measures to cut out the middleman in an old-school purchasing scheme that was putting the squeeze on the state's smaller breweries.

Texas Watchdog's Matt Pulle reported on the issue:
Currently, small, independent businesses have to pay distributors to sell the beer for them at a bar or supermarket, an odd and calculated quirk in the law that benefits the middlemen. Meanwhile, the craft brewers struggle to make a profit.

HB 2496, along with two ther measures, captured the imaginations of brewers and imbibers around Texas, but it was not to be. The powerful Texas beer lobby chimed in against the bill, which died in early May and was never voted on by the full House or Senate.

Close public workers' home addresses: Failed

Another disclosure issue came up in SB 331, to withhold government workers' home addresses from the public.

The Austin American-Statesman described the proposal:
Under current law, employees can opt to keep that information secret. Under Senate Bill 331, it will automatically be exempt from the Texas Public Information Act.

Texas Watchdog's Peebles outlined how such information can be used to unlock critical stories for the public:
I was an editor on a story at my old paper (not in Texas) in which state workers’ home addresses were crucial to showing how promotions were being given to those who gave big bucks to the governor’s campaign. Not only were state workers giving money — the maximum amount allowed by state law — but contributions were also being made in the names of their wives, parents and siblings, connections that we could not have made without address records.


The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but didn't make it past the House.

Keep sources confidential: Passed

shield

We kept an eye on HB 670, a shield law to exempt journalists from testifying in civil and criminal cases. It will make it easier for journalists to keep their sources confidential, which will help journalists continue to inform the public.

Texas Watchdog wrote about the first publicized invocation of the new law - a case involving Corpus Christi's KIII-TV3.

Open school superintendent's selection process: Failed

We touched on the secretive nature of Texas school districts' superintendent searches a few times during the session. Sen. Kevin Eltife offered a plan to make the search more transparent. SB 503 would have required Texas school districts to release the names of any candidate who made it to the last round of interviews.

After passing through the Senate intact, the bill failed in the House.

Limit DA's office: Failed


statecapitol

An attempt by Rep. Wayne Christen to limit the powers of the Travis County DA's office (and its state-funded public integrity unit) to investigate corruption at the capital caught our interest mid-session. Texas Watchdog's Pulle wrote on the measure, unwinding the legal issues from the partisan ones:
HB 566 would require that state elected officials and officers only be charged for official misconduct in their county of residence. The intent of that is clear: The Travis County DA’s office would no longer be able prosecute the vast majority of lawmakers on public corruption charges. That would now be the task of local prosecutors, who often don’t have the resources, if not the moxie, to indict their local representative.

The bill went nowhere.

Photos by flickr users Craftsman1, katenadine, and Stuck in Customs, used via the Creative Commons license.
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