Texas' Highest Criminal Court Strikes Down Provision of Open Meetings Act as "Unconstitutionally Vague"
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 12:01 PM

The ruling only pertains to a slice of the law, but open government advocates say the decision “removes a powerful disincentive” put in place to keep public officials from hiding public business.

The Texas Criminal Court of Appeals struck down part of a law imposing basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings.

In a major blow to the state’s government transparency laws, Texas’ highest criminal court has struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”

That law, which imposes basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings, makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” That provision aims to keep public officials from convening smaller meetings — without an official quorum present — to discuss public business outside the view of the taxpayers and the media.

A County judge, was indicted under that statute for allegedly conducting “secret deliberations” — without a quorum of the commissioners court present. Doyal filed to have the charges dismissed, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The case eventually made it to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handed him a victory Wednesday. Two judges on the nine-member, all-Republican court dissented.

Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to appointees and state agencies following the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals' ruling striking down a key provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act. In his letter, the Governor instructed his appointees and state agencies to continue to follow the spirit of the Open Meetings Act, despite yesterday’s ruling.

“Texas has long been, and will continue to be, a leader in governmental transparency,” writes Governor Abbott. “Regardless of yesterday’s ruling, my standard and expectation is for all agencies and boards to continue to follow the spirit of the law. You should not waver in your commitment to providing transparency in the work you perform for Texans at your respective governmental entities.”


Source:  https://www.texastribune.org/2019/02/27/texas-court-criminal-appeals-open-meetings-act-unconconstitutional/