Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"It is vital that we have transparency in the process."

Legislation to extend state open records law could be a tough sell


By ABC-7 Reporter Martin Bartlett
Copyright 2009

EL PASO -- Legislation proposed by a South Texas lawmaker could dramatically extend the reach and scope of state open records and state open meetings laws, but it might also be a tough sell for lawmakers.

Rep. Ismael "Kino " Flores, D-Palmview, is asking the Texas Legislative Council to draft legislation that would require Regional Mobility Authorities across the state -- including the Camino Real RMA in El Paso -- to post agendas online as well as all back-up material, according to a news release sent by his office.

"(An) RMA is a very important public body with ... the power to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on major projects including toll roads," Flores said in a statement. "Since RMAs have and will have a great impact on our present and future roads and highways throughout Texas, it is vital that we have transparency in the process.

Regional Mobility Authorities are already required to post their agendas and open their meetings to the public. The Texas Transportation Code defines an RMA "a body politic ... and a political subdivision of this state" and therefore they are already subject to state open records and open meetings acts which require most governmental entities to post their agendas but not back-up material, said State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, a leader in the state legislature on transportation issues.

Pickett said getting legislators to agree to extend the laws to include back-up information which often includes research prepared by staff "would be a tough one."

If passed, he said, it might discourage people to attend RMA meetings.

"I think it would actually be counter-productive," Pickett said. "People would have false security that everything is there."

Pickett said including back-up information might paint an incomplete picture; he said, staff often adds back-up information several times between the posting of an agenda and the actual meeting.

If passed, Flores bill would require back-up information to be posted along with agendas three days before the body meets.

More than a half-dozen RMAs serve many Texas metropolitan areas and have jurisdiction, in many cases, beyond county lines and city limits.

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