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July 7, 1998     (512) 463-0300

PUBLIC INFORMATION COMMITTEE HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING IN AMARILLO

AMARILLO - The Senate's Interim Committee on Public Information held its eighth and final out-of-town public hearing in Amarillo on Tuesday, July 7, in the Visiting Court Room of the Potter County Courthouse. Members of the committee include Senators Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio serving as chair, John Carona of Dallas, Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, and John Whitmire of Houston. The committee was appointed by Lt. Governor Bob Bullock to study the effects of the Public Information Act, formerly called the Open Records Act.

The hearing began with remarks from Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins and Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan welcoming the committee to the Panhandle. Invited testimony began with Mitchell W. Pearlman, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, discussing the structure, duties, and responsibilities of the commission. Mitchell stated that political independence is the key to the success of the commission. Texas currently has no similar agency. Hadassah Schloss of the General Services Commission Pubic Information Division testified of the growing amount of enforcement needed from her office. Ms. Schloss's office is responsible for outlining costs of complying with information requests to state agencies. Garet Von Netzer, publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News, testified about public access to accident reports and restriction of access to information contained in the state's motor vehicle records; and called for the repeal of Senate Bill 1069, passed during the 75th Legislature, which changed the access to these records. Denise Davis, Executive Director of the Judicial Council, testified about judicial records. The Judicial Council is currently drafting a position on the availability of judicial records.

Public testimony began with Anita Burges, Lubbock City Attorney discussing the perception of abuse of the Public Information Act and access to accident reports. Other public testimony included Walt Beorges of Texas Citizen Action; Kathleen Valentine of Texas Community Newspaper Association and the publisher of three small community newspapers in the Houston area; Potter County District Clerk Cindy Groomer and Lubbock County District Clerk Jean Ann Straton representing the Texas County District Clerks Association; Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Executive Editor Randy Sanders; and various other representatives of the community.

The committee will complete its report in the Fall of 1998, and present its findings to the 76th Legislature which convenes in January of 1999.

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