AP NEWS

Legislators file bill to restore Open Meetings Act after court ruling

March 6, 2019

Two state legislators are aiming to restore a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act that was struck down last week by the state’s highest criminal court.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, filed identical bills to reverse the court ruling that the “walking quorum” provision of the act is “unconstitutionally vague.” The provision made it a crime for government officials to secretly discuss the public’s business in small groups. Senate Bill 1640 and House Bill 3402 will reword the passage to make it more precise and remove confusion, according to a press release from Phelan’s and Watson’s offices.

“We simply couldn’t let this ruling go unanswered,” Watson said in the press release. “Without some kind of walking quorum prohibition, there’s nothing to stop government actors from meeting in smaller groups to avoid the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings Act.”

Related: Mental health bill clears hurdle in state Senate, despite opposition from conservative groups

In its ruling, the court left it up to the Legislature to to decide whether to revise the provision so it would pass constitutional muster. “We do not doubt the Legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” wrote Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The bills already appear to have strong support, as Phelan is the chairman of the House of Representatives State Affairs Committee, which is likely the first stop for the bills before a hearing on the House floor.

“Texans want their elected officials to be transparent and allow honest participation in the process,” Phelan said in the press release. “If we do not act this session to address this ruling, we deny them the open government they deserve.”