In recent years, a number of local officials across Texas have maintained that their government-related messages are no business of the public so long as the official uses his private device to send or receive them. Texas attorneys general have consistently ruled against that strained and arrogant line of reasoning, but officials continue to try to evade Texas’ open records laws anyway.
Once signed by the governor, the law will establish in black and white that citizens do indeed have the right to access these electronic messages about the public’s business. There should be no doubt going forward that if a public official is discussing public business in cyberspace, those messages are, yes, public — regardless of whether they’re transmitted on the official’s government computer or his personal e-tablet.
The third bill enhances public discourse by establishing clear and fair rules for prompt corrections by publishers. Until now, there was no established legal framework for a citizen to request a correction, nor were there guidelines for publishers to follow in addressing that request. The new law establishes clear processes and deadlines, which will result in the record being corrected quickly and fully when a mistake is made.
None of these important legal advances would have happened without the hard work and legislative prowess of Hunter and Ellis. For decades the two veteran lawmakers have fought hard — often against daunting opposition — to expand and protect citizens’ access to government information and journalists’ right to cover the complex issues that affect our daily lives.
The 83rd Legislative Session of the Texas Legislature saw these two veteran legislators from different parties — men who do not consider the First Amendment a partisan issue — at the top of their game. And because they were at the top of their game, the citizens of Texas can see more clearly now.
Donnis Baggett is executive vice president of the Texas Press Association. His email address is email@example.com.