It’s getting harder in Texas to get information to keep government accountable to the people.
From a legal loophole that keeps details from the public when a suspect dies in police custody, to court rulings that limit what you can learn about how officials spend your tax money, restrictions on information have a powerful impact.
“It’s difficult to trust a government that doesn’t let you have access to information about how they’re spending your money,” said Laura Prather, a board member on the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “I want to know how my taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
Two rulings from the Texas Supreme Court in 2015 blocked the public’s ability to get information about how tax money is spent on contracts with private companies and on taxpayer-funded non-profits.
“It’s made the taxpayer’s job harder to get information out of certain entities,” said James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “As a result of that, we’re less able to hold our government officials accountable.”
Lawmakers filed bills in the last Texas legislative session aimed at improving government transparency. Those did not pass. But supporters of the effort are hoping for more success in 2019.
“The taxpayer has every right to know what its government is potentially putting them on the hook for,” Quintero said. “We hope to pass legislation, bipartisan legislation, next session.”
“This is a broad-based, bipartisan effort,” Prather added. Both her group and Quintero’s group are parts of the Texas Sunshine Coalition. “We have groups from both sides of the aisle,” Prather said, as she listed organizations that have joined the effort.
“We have people from all sides coming together and crying out that transparency needs to be a priority this session,” Prather said.