AUSTIN (KXAN) — On the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers, one of the only pieces of legislation connected to the tragedy still on a path to the governor’s desk faced a last-minute road block supporters fear could harm open records decisions in the future.
This week, the Senate passed an amended version of House Bill 30, which sought to close Texas’ controversial “dead suspect loophole.” A gap in the state’s public records act gives police discretion to block the public from obtaining information in cases that haven’t gone through the court process, such as when a suspect is killed during an arrest — a problem KXAN has investigated for six years.
The Senate removed a section that would have allowed the public to see relevant personnel records “relating to a police officer’s alleged misconduct.” A key sticking point, according to a source close to the matter, is the Senate’s replacement of the word “or” for the word “and.” By doing so, the bill now requires that “each person who is described by or depicted in the information,” other than the person who is dead or incapacitated, “consents to the release” of the records.
That would “gut” the bill, make it “worse” than current law, and would not get the support of House members involved in the legislation, the source said.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, has tried for years to pass this bill. The issue rose to prominence – again – last year and gained momentum after Uvalde officials used it to block the release of records and video that would have shed light on law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
The bill passed the House earlier this month and, this week, passed the Senate. However, the changes were not accepted when it was sent back to the House.
Late Tuesday, the House requested a conference committee work to come to a consensus and finalize the bill. The chamber appointed Moody and Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, among its five “conferees” for the 10-member committee. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Senate had yet to agree to a conference committee or appoint its half of conferees.
Moody has publicly praised Burrows — who was chair of the House Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting — for releasing video to victims’ family members showing law enforcement inaction that day. The families were unable to obtain it on their own because it was being blocked from release to the public.
“Because he was willing to stand up and suffer whatever consequences came, they got many of the answers they were denied,” Moody said earlier this month. “It shouldn’t take conscientious people willing to break the law to get the truth out there. The families, and the public, deserve to know what happened. All of it. Good, bad, and ugly.”
KXAN reached out to the offices for Moody and Burrows. Both declined to comment before the conferees meet. Reps. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe; Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville; and Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, are the other three House members on the committee.
KXAN reached out to Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford — the bill’s Senate sponsor — but did not immediately hear back. We also reached out to the Freedom of Information Foundation Texas and the Texas Association of Broadcasters — two organizations that support the bill — but either did not immediately hear back or receive a comment.
The last day of the legislative session is next Monday.