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Rep. Lucio, III, recalls Mexican drug cartels’ plot in 2009 as an example of the need to protect home addresses, other sensitive information, of all elected officials, reports attorney Omar Ochoa - protect home addresses - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, was one of more than a dozen statewide figures on Wednesday, January 29, 2020, to participate in The Future of Health Care Symposium hosted by DHR Health at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

Photograph Courtesy DHR HEALTH FACEBOOK

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Rep. Lucio, III, recalls Mexican drug cartels’ plot in 2009 as an example of the need to protect home addresses, other sensitive information, of all elected officials, reports attorney Omar Ochoa

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislat[email protected]

All elected public leaders in Texas would be able to keep their home address, home telephone number, emergency contact information, or Social Security number from public access under House Bill 1082, authored by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday, April 8, 2021, attorney Omar Ochoa has announced.

Members of the Texas Legislature and statewide elected officials – such as the governor, lt. governor, Texas Supreme Court judges, and others – currently have protection from revealing certain personal information that identifies the elected official’s home address, home telephone number, family information, or Social Security number, according to the bill analysis by the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the House of Representatives. 

Government Code ch. 552, the Public Information Act, gives the public the right to request access to government information, with some exceptions to required public disclosure for certain information.

Under King’s House Bill 1082, all elected public officials in Texas would have the authority to keep such sensitive information away from public view. 

Elected public officials include school board members, city commissioners, school board or community college trustees, and so on.

According to the House Research Organization’s bill analysis:

Supporters of the measure – which included all Valley state representatives – said that elected public officials have faced frightening situations where protesters gathered outside of their residence. Some of these protesters have been armed, used bullhorns, and even set up stages. House Bill 1082 would protect all elected public officials from disturbing and dangerous situations and prevent a chilling effect on candidates running for local office by providing for their sensitive personal information to be kept confidential.

Critics of the bill said while limiting public access to information such as Social Security numbers or about family members of elected officers is worth considering, voters should have access to information about an elected public official’s place of residence. Information such as where in a district an elected public official lives or if the elected public official is current on property taxes can be important to voters. Allowing all elected public officials in the state to choose to restrict home address information would put them in a separate class and potentially lessen their accountability to voters.

During the public hearing on House Bill 1082, which took place at the Texas Capitol on Thursday, March 11, 2021, before the House Committee on State Affairs, Lucio, III recalled a drastic situation involving public access to home addresses of elected public officials.

“I want to thank you for presenting this bill,” Lucio, III, who is a member of the House Committee on State Affairs, told King, who also serves on the same legislative panel. “I want to rewind to 2009.”

At the time (Lucio, III was) advocating for border security dollars very heavily. There was unrest on the northern border (of Mexico). 

“I live on the border. A lot of issues with the (drug) cartels,” he explained. “Back in 2009, out of the blue, taking my daughter to daycare, I get a call from DPS, and they said, ‘We need to meet you immediately’. Whoa! Okay.”

Without any more information about the meeting, Lucio, III said he, his father, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, then-Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, and several district judges met with DPS officials.

‘They put us in a room and gave us a four-hour briefing about a message they had intercepted that there was a bounty on our head by the (Mexican drug) cartels. (DPS advised) us how to change our routes home, not to post on social media about where we were going to be, (because) there was a $500,000 reward for my kidnapping and delivery to the cartels in Mexico because I was interfering with their business model. That was scary.

“The scariest part was going home and telling my wife that my love for elected office put our family and our newborn baby in that situation. Very, very scary. So when you say it’s not just protests sometime,” Lucio, III said. “My circumstances were very, very, very real.”

As the author of House Bill 1082, King is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).

File refers to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.

A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both chambers (House of Representatives and Senate) of the legislature and action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state. “Bill” types include Senate and House bills, Senate and House Joint Resolutions, Senate and House concurrent resolutions, and Senate and House resolutions.

A bill analysis is a document prepared for all bills and joint resolutions reported out of committee. A bill analysis may include background information on the measure, a statement of purpose or intent, and an analysis of the content of the measure.

The House Research Organization (HRO) is a nonpartisan independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation and issues before the Texas Legislature. The HRO is governed by a broadly representative steering committee of 15 House members elected by the House membership to set policy for the organization, approve its budget, and ensure that its reports are objective.

House Bill 1082 has been sent to the Senate, according to Ochoa, “where it may or may not be scheduled for any action, such as holding a Senate committee public hearing, or a debate and vote by the Senate.”

“If it does pass the Senate and has any changes from the version approved by the House of Representatives, then a conference committee will have to be created to come up with a final version,” Ochoa added.

A conference committee is a committee composed (made up) of five members from each chamber (House of Representatives and Senate) appointed by the respective presiding officers (Speaker of the House and Lt. Governor) to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of a measure when the originating chamber refuses to concur in the changes made by the opposite chamber.

https://tlc.texas.gov/docs/legref/Glossary.pdf

When House Bill 1082 was first heard in a public hearing at the Capitol by the House Committee on State Affairs on Thursday, March 11, 2021, the House Research Organization provided additional details. 

Where the term “public officer” is used, it means elected public officials, such as school board members, city commissioner, school board or community college trustees, and so on.

Testifying in support of House Bill 1082, through live videoconferencing, was Ft. Worth, Mayor Betsy Price. 

Also in favor of House Bill 1082 – but did not testify before the House committee – were:

• Kate Goodrich on behalf of the City of Denton;
• Chris Jones on behalf of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT);
• Thomas Parkinson, on his own behalf;
• Ender Reed, on behalf of the Harris County Commissioners Court;
• Melissa Shannon, on behalf of the Bexar County Commissioners Court;
• Julie Wheeler, on behalf of the Travis County Commissioners Court; and
• Claudia Russell, on behalf of the City of San Marcos. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevents many individuals from testifying in person during committee hearings at the Texas Capitol, they are still able to submit their comments to House committee members through correspondence such as emails, which then become part of the public record in the Texas Legislature.

Two organizations – the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas – submitted written testimony asking for some changes to House Bill 1082 – changes that would have to be made in the Senate.

Those written remarks follow:

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Donnis Baggett
Executive Vice President 
Texas Press Association
https://www.texaspress.com
Bryan, Texas

We respectfully object to the sealing of home addresses for elected officials, who are chosen by the voters and are accountable to them. Members of the public may legitimately want to know where in the district their council member lives, for example, or whether they’re current on their property taxes. 

For that matter, the incumbent council member might want to ask the same questions about their election opponent. We understand the need to restrict access to Social Security numbers, emergency contacts, and personal family information. That data can and should be protected without creating a separate class for elected officials in a nation built upon accessibility and accountability of officials.

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Kelley Shannon
Executive Director
Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
https://foift.org/contact/
Austin, Texas

These are comments “on” the bill (not for or against) for the following reason: 

We at the Freedom of Information Foundation (FOI) oppose the sealing of home addresses for elected officials because addresses allow the public to know whether an official lives in his or her district; to track property tax payments (and non-payments) and to conduct another necessary vetting of elected officials. 

However, we don’t oppose making Social Security numbers, emergency contacts, and other personal information off-limits to public view. Unfortunately, all these things are grouped in with home addresses in that section of the law and in House Bill 1082.

Might you consider removing “home addresses” from the list of off-limits personal information for elected officials? 

Thanks for taking this point into account, and best regards.

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When House Bill 1082 went before the full House of Representatives, it included the bill analysis, prepared by the House Research Organization, which follows:

3/11/2121

Subject 

Allowing exception for access to certain information of elected officers

Committee 

State Affairs – favorable, without amendment

Vote

12 ayes — Paddie, Hernández, Deshotel, Harless, Howard, Hunter, P. King, Lucio, Metcalf, Raymond, Shaheen, Slawson
0 nays
1 absent — Smithee

Witnesses

For — Betsy Price, City of Fort Worth; (Registered, but did not testify: Melissa Shannon, Bexar County Commissioners Court; Kate Goodrich, City of Denton; Chris Jones, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT); Ender Reed, Harris County Commissioners Court; Julie Wheeler, Travis County Commissioners Court; Thomas Parkinson)

Against — None

On — (Registered, but did not testify: Justin Gordon, Office of Attorney General)

Background

Government Code ch. 552, the Public Information Act, gives the public the right to request access to government information, with some exceptions to required public disclosure for certain information.

Digest

House Bill 1082 would add elected public officers to those whose information related to home address, home telephone number, emergency contact information, or Social Security number was excepted from the public availability requirement under the Public Information Act.

Elected public officers would be included among those whose property tax appraisal information was confidential and was available only for certain official use if that information identified the officer’s home address and the elected officer chose to restrict public access to it.

The bill would apply only to a request for information that is received after the bill’s effective date and would prevail over other acts of the 87th Legislature relating to nonsubstantive additions and corrections.

The bill would take immediate effect if finally passed by a two-thirds record vote of the membership of each house. Otherwise, it would take effect on September 1, 2021.

Supporters say

House Bill 1082 would protect local elected public officers from disturbing and dangerous situations and prevent a chilling effect on candidates running for local office by providing for their sensitive personal information to be kept confidential.

Members of the Legislature and statewide elected officers currently have protection from disclosure of certain personal information that identifies the officer’s home address, home telephone number, family information, or Social Security number. The bill would extend this protection to all elected public officers, which would include officers of local governments.

Elected local officers have faced frightening situations where protesters gathered outside of an officer’s personal residence. Some of these protesters have been armed, used bullhorns, and even set up stages. There are appropriate venues for protest, but a private residence is not one of them. Elected officers’ family members do not hold any office and neither do neighbors, so they should not be subjected to these types of demonstrations.

The hazards faced by elected officials due to public access to identifying information extend beyond protests. Elected officers across the state have faced threats, including death threats, and it is entirely possible that such threats could be directed at local elected officers. It is a difficult decision to run for office when doing so could subject your family to protests at their home and perhaps even violence. These are genuinely dangerous situations and the protections afforded to statewide officers and members of the Legislature, and by extension, their families should be extended to officers of local governments.

The intent of the bill is not to withhold important information from voters or reduce an elected officer’s accountability to them. Allowing certain property tax information to appear online is already a proactive process, and the bill would simply create a specific exemption for local elected officers. These officers would remain accountable to voters in every other way and the optional nature of restricting the information would let elected officers continue to allow public access if they chose.

Critics say

While limiting public access to information such as Social Security numbers or about family members of elected officers is worth considering, voters should have access to information about an officer’s place of residence. Information such as where in a district an elected officer lives in or if the officer is current on property taxes can be important to voters. Allowing all elected officers in the state to choose to restrict home address information would put them in a separate class and potentially lessen their accountability to voters.

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In addition to King as the primary author, the following state representatives are joint authors of his House Bill 1082:

Rep. Ana Hernández, D-Houston;
Rep. Sam Harless, R-Spring;
Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont; and
Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano.

In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure and have his or her name shown following the primary author’s name on official printings of the measure, on calendars, and in the journal. The primary author may authorize up to four joint authors.

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For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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