FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Former longtime Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa; Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and attorney Omar Ochoa, a son of Joe Ochoa, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Wednesday, November 16, 2022. This summer, congressional debate in Washington, D.C. is building over a federal proposal known as the “AM for Every Vehicle Act”, as major automakers plan to eliminate AM radio in vehicles in the coming years, reports attorney Omar Ochoa.
Photograph By NAYELI ZENTENO
Congressional debate building over a federal proposal, the “AM for Every Vehicle Act”, as major automakers plan to eliminate AM radio in vehicles in the coming years, reports attorney Omar Ochoa
Is AM radio in new vehicles destined to go the way of 8-track players, cassette players, and CD players, and become a forgotten technology sooner rather than later?
And what would be the importance to the U.S. public if AM radio – which tends to specialize in spoken-word formats, such as talk radio, all news, sports, religion, and non-English broadcasts – were to completely disappear as standard equipment in most new vehicles?
Those concerns are being played out in Congress, as powerful special interest groups such as broadcasters and major automakers are fighting over federal legislation, known as the “AM for Every Vehicle Act”, which is being battled at the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C., says attorney Omar Ochoa.
Legislation is a proposed or enacted law or group of laws.
The legislation for the “AM for Every Vehicle Act” is HR 3413 in the U.S. House of Representatives and S 1669 in the U.S. Senate.
Ochoa provides regular reports to the public on federal, state, and local laws that impact journalism, communications, freedom of speech issues, and transparency in government.
A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin as well as the UT School of Law, Ochoa is an advocate for transparency in government, provides regular reports to the public on federal, state, and local laws that impact journalism, communications, freedom of speech issues, and transparency in government.
“Supporters of keeping AM radio in vehicles produced in the near future say motorists need it – among other important reasons – because it is part of the Emergency Alert System, and it can warn people when they are on the road, especially in remote areas of our nation about dangerous emergency events such as regional severe weather and national catastrophes,” Ochoa said.
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system commonly used by state and local authorities to deliver important emergency information, such as weather and AMBER alerts, to affected communities. EAS Participants – radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers – deliver local alerts on a voluntary basis, but they are required to provide the capability for the President to address the public during a national emergency.
Meanwhile, leaders for major vehicle manufacturers, say with the new wave of electric vehicles coming by 2030, AM radio will not be able to function properly, if at all, according to Motor Trend magazine.
“Specifically, electric vehicle drivetrains produce electromagnetic waves that interfere with the frequency of AM radio signals, which operate at a similar wavelength to the electric drivetrain. The resulting electromagnetic interference impacts the strength of the AM broadcast signal, causing severe disruption to AM radio transmission that makes the signal reception unstable and unusable.” Volvo said, “If Volvo Cars had continued to provide AM radio, our BEVs and PHEVs likely would have experienced EMC disturbances, and this could result in poor performance.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “S&P Global Mobility forecasts electric vehicle sales in the United States could reach 40 percent of total passenger car sales by 2030, and more optimistic projections foresee electric vehicle sales surpassing 50 percent by 2030,” Ochoa said.
“But technology moved on, and the silky smooth sound of FM radio and then the crystal digital clarity of streaming stations and podcasts narrowed AM’s hold on the American imagination,” writes Marc Fisher, a columnist with the Washington Post, in his Saturday, May 13, 2013 article titled End of a love affair – AM radio is being removed from many cars.
“Now, although 82 million Americans still listen to AM stations each month, according to the National Association of Broadcasters, the AM audience has been aging for decades,” Fisher noted. “Ford says its data, pulled from internet-connected vehicles, shows that less than 5 percent of in-car listening is to AM stations.”
Police transparency bill becomes state law
Back in Austin, a major open government measure was approved by the 88th Texas Legislature and has become law.
According to Kelley Shannon, Executive Director, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas:
A loophole in the Texas Public Information Act that many law enforcement departments use to withhold records when someone dies in police custody will be closed with a new law taking effect September 1, 2023.
House Bill 30 by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, passed both the Texas House and Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott allowed it to become law without his signature as his veto period ended on Sunday, June 18, 2023.
(All Rio Grande Valley state senators and state representatives voted for House Bill 30.)
No longer will police departments be able to use this loophole to withhold case records when a person dies in police custody or in other interaction with law enforcement.
The existing provision in the Public Information Act allows it if a case does not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication. It’s a part of the law intended to protect the living who are acquitted or have had charges dropped, but some police officials have applied it to those who were arrested and died.
The measure had been debated in previous legislative sessions, winning bipartisan support in the House but never passing the Senate until this year. It took on additional urgency after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde and the lack of transparency afterward by law enforcement and public officials.
According to the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the House of Representatives:
• Government Code, sec. 552.022 establishes categories of public information subject to required disclosure. Sec. 552.108 exempts certain information held by law enforcement agencies or a prosecutors from disclosure requirements; and
• Concerns have been raised that current law exempting information related to criminal cases that did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication from required disclosure may prevent certain information about cases involving deceased suspects from becoming publicly available.
When the measure first went before the House Committee on State Affairs for a public hearing on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, several dozen individuals representing themselves or organizations publicly stated or registered their support of opposition to portions or all of House Bill 30, including:
For House Bill 30:
Donnis Baggett, Texas Press Association; Ivonne Díaz, Texas Rising; Kathy Dyer; Robert Dyer; Zachary Kolodny; (Registered, but did not testify: Stephen Reeves, Fellowship Southwest; Kelley Shannon, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas; Amber Mills, MOVE Texas Action Fund; Libby Goldman, Never Again Action; Samuel Brannon, Southwestern Texas Synod ELCA; Alondra Andrade, Tahirih Justice Center; Cole Meyer, Texas Appleseed; Michael Schneider, Texas Association of Broadcasters; Alexis Bay, Texas Civil Rights Project; Rocio Fierro-Pérez, Texas Freedom Network; Alexa Carranco, Manuel Guzmán, Kyle Jacquez, Texas Rising; Ware Wendell, Texas Watch; Katie Naranjo, Cynthia Van Maanen, Travis County Democratic Party; and 35 individuals).
Against House Bill 30:
Thomas Villarreal, Austin Police Association; Jennifer Szimanski, Marvin Ryals, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas; Chris Jenkins; (Registered, but did not testify: Chris Jones, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas; James Parnell, Dallas Police Association; Charley Wilkison, El Paso Police Officers’ Association, El Paso County Sheriff’s Officers Association, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas; Joe Morris, Game Warden Peace Officers Association; Ray Hunt, Houston Police Officers’ Union; Victor Treviño, La Unión del Pueblo Entero; Karina Álvarez, Laredo Immigrant Alliance; Carlos Ortiz, San Antonio Police Officers’ Association; John Wilkerson, Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA); AJ Louderback, Texas Sheriffs’ Regional Alliance; Fernando García, Samantha Singleton, The Border Network for Human Rights; Brien Casey, Williamson County Deputies Association; and Noel Johnson.
For more information on the details of the final version of House Bill 30 that will become law on Friday, September 1, 2023, individuals may contact Moody through his Capitol office in Austin at 512/463-0728 or through his District office in El Paso at 915/751-2700.
The FOI Foundation of Texas and other organizations supporting open government have been pushing for passage of the legislation since 2017.
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas works to encourage a greater appreciation, knowledge and understanding of the First Amendment and helps to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public.
Since its formation in 1978, the Foundation has helped citizens access government meetings and documents.The Foundation seeks to inform journalists, legal professionals, educators, students, public officials and individual citizens about their rights and responsibilities as participants in our democracy.
With the clear objective to protect and preserve the state’s open meetings and open records laws, the non-partisan Foundation acts as a statewide information clearinghouse and offers guidance and assistance on FOI-related issues through a network of attorneys and through public seminars and conferences.
FOIFT is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) supported through grants and tax-deductible donations from individuals, corporations and foundations.
Kelley Shannon, Executive Director, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, contributed to this article. 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).