Saturday, October 25, 2008

"What goes on the Betty King Room is supposed to stay in the Betty King Room."

Texas Senate does too much business in secret, Wentworth says


Jennifer Peebles
Texas Watchdog
Copyright 2008

The Texas Senate does too much of its business in secret, a leading Senate Republican said Friday at an Austin conference on open government issues.

Jeff Wentworth, the six-term Senator from San Antonio and chairman of the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence, said that he was “concerned about the way the Senate does its business,” saying too much deliberation goes on while senators meet in closed-door caucuses in the Capitol’s Betty King Committee Room: “We discuss things that, I believe, should be seen on the floor of the Texas Senate.”

Senators are often briefed on important issues in great detail in those private meetings, and “we get in very hot, emotional debates in the Betty King Room,” Wentworth said.

“In my judgment, it could be a healthier situation than it is.”

Wentworth’s comments were made at the annual conference of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, as the senator was taking part in a roundtable discussion on open government issues in the state.

Wentworth told the group that he was with its members in the belief that “citizens are denied” the ability to hear the Senate deliberate on those issues.

And what goes on the Betty King Room is supposed to stay in the Betty King Room. The Senate has an “unwritten rule,” he said, that what’s discussed there must remain secret, the senator said, or risk being “shunned by your colleagues.”

Senators sometimes speak on an issue one way in the privacy of the Betty King Room, but then take the other side when the matter is discussed publicly on the Senate floor, Wentworth said.

The Betty King Committee Room was formerly known as the Lieutenant Governor’s Committee Room. It was renamed in 2001 in honor of the woman who spent 24 years as secretary of the Senate.

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