Abbott's pen cut transparency like a sword
With the simple act of signing his name, Gov. Greg Abbott completed a trifecta of failure by all branches of state government to defend the people's right to know.
Abbott was proud of himself Thursday for vetoing 50 bills that he claimed were government overreach. One of those was House Bill 2783, regrettably the only government transparency measure to survive the 85th Legislature.
HB 2783, one of the more modest of the sunshine bills introduced this session, would have allowed plaintiffs who sue a government entity for withholding public information to collect attorney fees when the entity ends the suit by turning over the information. Public officials are known to slow-walk an information request to the attorney general's office when they already know good and well that it's public information, or to foot-drag until a lawsuit is filed. They sorely need a deterrent, and HB 2783 would have been one — a mild one, but better than nothing.
Abbott's objection was that the bill would have been an incentive to sue and collect damages at public expense. There is no such thing, and there would have been no such thing, as predatory information-request filing for the purpose of collecting attorney fees. This is a get-rich-never scheme. Find us the worst lawyer in Texas and we'll show you someone whose time is too valuable to waste on this.
"Texas Public Information Act lawsuits are not common, and when they do occur it's because a governmental entity has refused to hand over public information — the people's information," said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation. "Going to court is a last resort, and an option not many Texans can afford. When a lawsuit is necessary, a judge should have the ability to award attorneys' fees to the prevailing plaintiff who had to turn to the courthouse when all else failed in seeking public records."
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