open meetings act

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

From Texas Standard.

Mayors and city councils along the Gulf Coast didn’t have a lot of time to make decisions during Hurricane Harvey. The situation on the ground changed almost constantly as wave after wave of rain doused their cities. But some of those local officials say their response was impaired by a law meant to keep their communities better-informed: the Texas Open Meetings Act. It requires a certain amount of advance public notice before a meeting – something officials say slowed their decision-making during the storm. This week they brought those claims to the Texas Legislature.

Envios/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/envios/6071512063/

It’s the end of a nine-year legal battle over a Texas law requiring government meetings to be open and accessible to the public.  Today the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal that challenged the Texas Open Meetings Act

The Texas Municipal League argued the law violated free-speech rights, and that the punishments were too harsh: up to $500 fine and six months in jail for elected officials who deliberate together in secret. 

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

A bill filed in the Texas Senate Thursday would allow elected officials to hold discussions online instead of in person. It already has the support of two state leaders from two parties.

Right now, if elected officials discussed government matters online they’d be violating the Open Meetings Act. State Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat and former Austin mayor, wants to change that by letting elected officials legally meet in online chat rooms, if it’s shown live on the Internet and archived for the public.

KUT News

Some members of the Austin City Council will avoid prosecution for alleged violations of open meetings laws.

On Wednesday, the Travis County Attorney’s Office said it finished its investigation into a nearly two-year-old complaint that council members deliberated among themselves in ways that may violate government transparency laws.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

A federal appeals court is upholding a Texas law aimed at government transparency.

A group of city officials from across Texas had challenged the Texas Open Meetings Act, saying it violates their free speech rights. The law requires public officials to post notices and agendas for their meetings and restricts how officials can meet with each other to discuss public business.

The ruling today from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court ruling that found the law is constitutional and does not improperly limit elected officials speech.

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