Carlos Sánchez, News & Politics Editor for Texas Monthly magazine, says Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas endorses government transparency legislation authored by Rep. Canales
A bill filed by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, that would prevent any state, county, or local government from keeping secret the amount of taxpayer funds used to pay for entertainment events, such as parades and concerts, on Wednesday, April 6, 2019, was unanimously approved by the House Committee on State Affairs.
The measure now awaits possible scheduling for a vote by the full House of Representatives.
This action follows a public hearing of that House legislative panel, which drew favorable reactions from state lawmakers.
“My bill (House Bill 81) is aimed at addressing an issue that actually occurred in a city of which I represent a portion,” said Canales, referring to the McAllen’s city government. “This city hosted a holiday concert parade (in December 2015) featuring an international artist. A few weeks after the event, it came out the the city had not just lost thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars from this event.”
The controversy over the holiday parade in McAllen began when South Texas media outlets were denied information about how much the city government paid pop superstar Enrique Iglesias to perform a concert at the McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday, December 5, 2015.
The singer’s paid appearance was a featured part of the city government’s “McAllen Holiday Parade and Concert featuring Enrique Iglesias”. The parade was free and open to the public, but paid tickets for the outdoor concert by Iglesias were required for admittance, and those ticket prices ran from $15 to $125 apiece.
Local media requested the documents, contracts, and agreements relating to the public funds paid to Enriquez, but the city appealed the requests to the Texas Attorney General, and based on a Texas Supreme Court ruling, the information was never released
Canales testified before the House Committee on State Affairs on Thursday.
“So, my bill simply states that ‘any information relating to the expenditures of public funds on a parade, a concert, or other event open to the public, paid for in whole or in part by public funds, has to be privy to open records.’ HB 81 also keeps government entities from including provisions in their contracts to prohibit that disclosure,”
Canales said. “My intent is not to also allow allow access to other trade secrets, that’s not what we are trying to get at for event promoters, such as how they do their ticketing process or security plans. It’s simply how much our cities are paying for putting on concerts or parades.”
House Bill 81, as originally filed by Canales, would amend part of the Government Code to prevent information that relates to the expenditure of public or other funds by a governmental body for a parade, concert, or other entertainment event open to the general public from being withheld under Section 552.104.
It also bars persons, including governmental bodies, from including contract provisions that would prohibit disclosure of this type of information and makes such provisions void.
The Office of the Attorney General has indicated there would be no significant fiscal impact and anticipates any additional work resulting from the passage of this bill could reasonably be absorbed within current resources. Cities report that while the bill will most likely have no significant fiscal implication, if cities must add additional accounts or track the cost of relatively small dollar events separately, then costs might become more significant.
“I believe it is important that I raise awareness here at the Texas Capitol that government entities can keep secret their expenditures for entertainment events, like parades or concerts,”
Canales continued. “This shows exactly how ridiculous this (existing) law has become.”
Carlos Sánchez, News & Politics Editor for Texas Monthly magazine, and former Executive Editor, The Monitor newspaper, testified on Thursday, in support of HB 81 as a member of the Board of Directors for the Texas Freedom of Information.
“HB 81 represents a simple, nine-line fix to our state’s open records law and would prevent governmental entities from entering into nondisclosure agreements for entertainment purposes in the future. And it would force these bodies to tell taxpayers how much tax money is being used for entertainment purposes. For that reason, I would strongly urge passage of HB 81.”
In concluding the combined testimonies for HB 81, Canales reflected, “It’s pretty simple, I would say.
“Put yourself in my shoes, put yourself in this City of McAllen’s shoes, and put yourself in the residents of that city, and say your city holds an event, they don’t have to tell you what they spend with your tax dollars?” Canales speculated. “If you think that’s OK, well, then this isn’t the bill for you.”
Referring to the ideal known as “Sunshine is the best disinfectant”, which means that if every government spending bill and decision is made in the open, then corruption should be lessened, Canales continued his appeal for the committee’s legislative support for HB 81.
“But if you stand for public transparency, accountability, if you believe sunshine is the best disinfectant, then this is the bill for you,” he promised.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who is the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).