‘Boeing’ loophole finally closed for public records
It’s been a while since Texans saw their lawmakers doing more instead of less to promote open meetings and records, but let’s give credit where credit is due. The Legislature finally stepped up to a lingering challenge by closing the infamous “Boeing” loophole that was allowing some local governments to withhold basic information about contracts they make with private businesses — using your tax dollars, of course.
The problem stemmed from an unfortunate ruling by the Texas Supreme Court in 2015 in Boeing vs. Paxton that allowed businesses to withhold some information like that if it would provide their competitors with an unfair advantage. The ruling was questionable on its face, but it was exploited by some businesses. They began withholding all kinds of basic data about contracts with cities or schools by claiming “trade secrets” or proprietary information.
How bad did it get? Try this: The city of McAllen refused to say how much it paid singer Enrique Iglesias for an appearance at a public concert — that lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, by the way. Finally, the curtain is coming down on that act.
The House and Senate passed legislation that would declare the contents of most public contracts with private businesses to be public business. That’s the way it should have been all along, of course, as with any expenditure of tax dollars. When your city or county buys a few truckloads of gravel from a local company, you certainly deserve to know how much it paid.
Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign SB 943 into law, and the concept of transparency will get a rare win. Texas has a fairly good law on access to public meetings and records, but it has been chipped away in recent years — with disappointing rulings like the Boeing case. Another problem is getting local governments to obey state law in spirit and letter instead of dragging their feet and trying to find excuses to keep public information locked away. Soon there will be one less way to keep these records hidden, and every taxpayer will benefit.