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Videotapes of public meetings of many elected governmental bodies must now be posted on the Internet under law co-authored by Rep. Canales

Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, addressing the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon, held on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in McAllen.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

The key public meetings of elected governmental bodies in the larger school districts, cities and counties in Texas, including many in the Valley, must now be videotaped in their entirety and made available on the Internet under a state law coauthored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which went into effect on January 1, 2016. “House Bill 283 will improve transparency and access to our government leaders by ensuring that recordings of open meetings are now easily available to the people,” said Canales. “Many people do not have the available time to attend city council/commission, school board, and county commissioners court meetings because they are working, spending time with their families, or lack access to transportation.” During the public hearing on HB 283 held on Monday, May 11, 2015 before the House Committee on Government Transparency, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas announced its support for the goals of the legislation. “We feel that the bill is a very good one, puts it out there, people can look online if there is a certain decisions, debates, discussions they are interested in,” said Kelley Shannon, Executive Director for the Freedom on Information Foundation of Texas. “They don’t have to be at the meeting, they can use technology and access it. We support the bill.” The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, founded in 1978 and led by a volunteer board of directors, is a non-profit 301(c)(3) organization devoted to promoting open government and protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press, according to its website. The House District 40 legislator also said it was important for public officials to provide the unedited visual/audio recordings of their actions on the Internet so their comments cannot be taken out of context or misunderstood, leaving a false impression of their actions and motives. “Some of the local governments in the Valley and in my legislative district already were providing this and other vital public information services, but now more of our elected leaders are going to do the same beginning this month,” Canales said. “This measure makes it state law that elected officials cannot take away the right of the people to see for themselves through the Internet what is being said and done in their name.” As finally approved by the Legislature during the spring of 2015 and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 17, 2015, HB 283 applies to “district board of trustees for a school district that has a student enrollment of 10,000 or more, an elected governing body of a home-rule municipality that has a population of 50,000 or more, or a county commissioners court for a county that has a population of 125,000”, according to the legislation. Metropolitan rapid transit authorities, regional transportation authorities, and municipal transit departments also are covered by this law. Canales said he encourages area elected leaders in the Valley, who represent smaller populations, to also put their meetings on the Internet, even if they are not required by the new state law. “Technology has improved so much that a community can use even an smartphone to record, with good to excellent quality in the audio and video, their public meetings, and the costs to get it online, such as posting them on YouTube, is very little, if no cost,” the state lawmaker said. “Testimony on this law last spring found that a county in west Texas, with a population of 11,000, was already doing it.

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Videotapes of public meetings of many elected governmental bodies must now be posted on the Internet under law co-authored by Rep. Canales

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

The key public meetings of elected governmental bodies in the larger school districts, cities and counties in Texas, including many in the Valley, must now be videotaped in their entirety and made available on the Internet under a state law coauthored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which went into effect on January 1, 2016.

“House Bill 283 will improve transparency and access to our government leaders by ensuring that recordings of open meetings are now easily available to the people,” said Canales. “Many people do not have the available time to attend city council/commission, school board, and county commissioners court meetings because they are working, spending time with their families, or lack access to transportation.”

During the public hearing on HB 283 held on Monday, May 11, 2015 before the House Committee on Government Transparency, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas announced its support for the goals of the legislation.

“We feel that the bill is a very good one, puts it out there, people can look online if there is a certain decisions, debates, discussions they are interested in,” said Kelley Shannon, Executive Director for the Freedom on Information Foundation of Texas. “They don’t have to be at the meeting, they can use technology and access it. We support the bill.”

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, founded in 1978 and led by a volunteer board of directors, is a non-profit 301(c)(3) organization devoted to promoting open government and protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press, according to its website.

The House District 40 legislator also said it was important for public officials to provide the unedited visual/audio recordings of their actions on the Internet so their comments cannot be taken out of context or misunderstood, leaving a false impression of their actions and motives.

“Some of the local governments in the Valley and in my legislative district already were providing this and other vital public information services, but now more of our elected leaders are going to do the same beginning this month,” Canales said. “This measure makes it state law that elected officials cannot take away the right of the people to see for themselves on the Internet what is being said and done in their name.”

As finally approved by the Legislature during the spring of 2015 and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 17, 2015, HB 283 applies to “district board of trustees for a school district that has a student enrollment of 10,000 or more, an elected governing body of a home-rule municipality that has a population of 50,000 or more, or a county commissioners court for a county that has a population of 125,000”, according to the legislation.

Metropolitan rapid transit authorities, regional transportation authorities, and municipal transit departments also are covered by this law.

Canales said he encourages area elected leaders in the Valley, who represent smaller populations, to also put their meetings on the Internet, even if they are not required by the new state law.

“Technology has improved so much that a community can use even a smartphone to record, with good quality in the audio and video, their public meetings, and the costs to get it online, such as posting them on YouTube, is very little, if no cost,” the state lawmaker said. “Testimony on this law last spring found that a county in west Texas, with a population of 11,000, was already doing it.”

The main author of HB 283 was Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, with Canales serving as one of several coauthors, and the sponsor of the measure was Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.

“With the Internet now having been around for nearly a quarter of a century in regular use, there is absolutely no excuse for entities of reasonable size to put their meetings online, then we all know what is being said,” Fallon explained HB 283 during the May 11, 2015 House committee hearing.

Fallon claimed that some of the governmental entities who would be affected by the legislation were “clearly dragging their feet.”

In his closing remarks on the measure before the House committee on May 11, Fallon dismissed arguments that the costs to videotape and place the recorded meetings on the Internet are too high.

With the advent of high-definition video and audio now available on technology such as iPhones and iPads, “you can literally do this and satisfy the conditions of HB 283 for no money,” he noted. “I have not talked to one citizen when you describe what we are trying to do with this bill who is against it.

“There is one city, which will remain nameless, with a budget of $205 million, which is not doing it. Don’t tell me it is because of money. It is not,” Fallon continued. “There is one county, which will remain nameless, with a $1.7 billion operating budget, which is not doing it, and one school district with a $800 million budget that is not doing it. That is a false argument.”

The videos can be posted for free on various social media outlets, such as YouTube, Canales said.

Launched in May 2005, YouTube allows billions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos. YouTube provides a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe and acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small, according to the its website.

Key provisions of the law require the affected school districts, cities, counties, metropolitan rapid transit authorities, regional transportation authorities, and municipal transit departments to:

Make a video and audio recording of reasonable quality of each regularly scheduled open meeting that is not a work session or a special called meeting; and

Make available an archived copy of the video and audio recording of each meeting described by Subdivision (1) on the Internet.

According to the bill analysis by the House Research Organization, which is the research arm of the House of Representatives:

The law requires each regularly scheduled open meeting that was not a work session or special called meeting to be recorded and for an archived copy of the recording to be made available online.

The governmental bodies are not required create a separate website for the purposes of the bill and instead may use an existing publicly accessible video sharing or social networking website to host the recordings.

A governmental body that already maintains a website is required to provide links to the archived recording in a conspicuous manner on its website.

HB 283 requires that these recordings be made available online no later than seven days after the meeting and would have to be available online for at least two years after the recording was first made available.

The law allows an exemption in the event of a technical breakdown, or a catastrophe that interfered with a governmental body’s ability to conduct a meeting as defined in Government Code, sec. 551.0411. After a breakdown or catastrophe, governmental bodies would be required to make all reasonable efforts to make recordings available in a timely fashion.

The law also allows governmental bodies to broadcast regularly scheduled open meetings on television.

The bill is effective on January 1, 2016 for that purpose, and applies only to an open meeting held on or after the effective date.

HB 283 will improve transparency and access to government by ensuring that recordings of open meetings were made available online. Individuals who find it difficult to attend meetings because of a disability or simply due to a busy schedule could keep up with the actions of a governmental body if a recording was posted online.

In some cases, governmental bodies have been reluctant to record meetings and make them available on the Internet, even when citizens have specifically requested that recordings be made available online. The bill would ensure uniform rules so that members of the public would be able to access these recordings no matter where they lived in the state.

Current technology makes recording and posting meetings online inexpensive, simple, and convenient, and the requirements of this bill could be fulfilled with equipment as minimal as a cell phone capable of recording video and a publicly accessible website such as YouTube.

This law will help the public stay engaged and informed regarding the activities of these governmental bodies.

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos 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.

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