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Texas Erecting Barriers to Citizen Journalists

Pegasus News: Anti-sunshine bill HB 2564 on Governor Perry’s desk Saturday. Under this law, local and state government agencies could track individuals who seek public records and bill them for employee time spent to dig them up. Elected officials, nonprofit corporations, FCC-licensed TV and radio stations and “Newspapers of General Circulation” would be exempt.

Pegasus’ Mike Orren calls this a blatant attempt to prevent activists and others from covering what local officials are doing. This interpretation sounds about right: a terrible bill in a state known for terrible government.

5 Comments on “Texas Erecting Barriers to Citizen Journalists”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on May 26th, 2007 at 10:21 am

    [I’m not even going to bother]

  2. #2 Allen Gwinn
    on May 26th, 2007 at 10:56 am

    The bill also impacts national news media (CNN with no broadcast license?), along with monthly and weeklies that are not free (Texas Monthly, D Magazine, Time, Newsweek, Business Week, etc.) I guess they were in a hurry to punish bloggers and got sidetracked!

  3. #3 Dan Gillmor
    on May 26th, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Seth — [then why the post?]

  4. #4 Seth Finkelstein
    on May 26th, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    The meta-comment comment seemed the optimal point on the risk/reward curve. I had “gotten into it” in half-composing a much longer comment, but I decided to dump that, as it seemed likely to generate more trouble than it was worth.

    It’s sort of like voting “Abstain” rather than not voting at all. Or why people want a “None Of The Above” option on the ballot. Sometimes you want to distinguish intense dissatisfaction from utter apathy, as they aren’t identical, even if they have they same outcome in a certain context.

  5. #5 Jon Garfunkel
    on May 29th, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    I’ll say it for Seth then.

    Thanks, Allen Gwinn, in your blog for pointing to the news article containing some of the relevant background to the story:

    “The bill came as a response to problems in the Lake Travis Independent School District, where a single family has made 2,800 requests under the Texas Public Information Act since June 2005, said Susan Bohn, an attorney for the district.” Read this letter from the school district.

    Now, in defense, here’s the website of said family, David Lovelace, along with his mentor, Dianna Pharr. And check out Peyton Wolcott— wow, I’ve never seen someone lay out a website worse than the blog format! (why do you suppose none of them use the weblog format?)

    What a shame: Lovelace lost the schoolboard election in 2005, 1,978 to 998 to the incumbent.

    Lovelace’s game is a compliance vortex. The school district makes a screw-up, like sending student records to third parties, which violates state and federal laws (all sorts of people want mailing lists– an Air Force recruiter, a financial planner, local non-profits. Can they start a MySpace page?). Lovelace makes a request for information related to the compliance violation. But to prepare information to send to him, they need lawyers to review the compliance. And Lovelace pounces on them for spending the money or screwing it up. He complains about the district making student info available– but he posts it on his website.

    The district sued the Lovelaces last October; a judge dismissed it, saying that the legislature would have to amend the law first. The district appealed, and the legislature appealed the law.

    The irony is that most of the HIPPA and educational records acts are supposed to protect against unwanted disclosure of information such as whether a student has disabilities. One of the Lovelace’s sons, in fact, has disabilities– so said lawyer to the AP. But there’s no information at all to that effect on Lovelace’s website. You wonder whether Lovelace’s might endear more sympathy from the community by telling the story of his son on the website. Maybe it’s to his credit that he doesn’t.

    So this is much more interesting than simply “Texas has bad government.”