Last week was ‘Sunshine Week’ – an initiative to remind Americans of the importance of government transparency. To ensure greater control of government by the people, we need to ensure that measures to set back transparency are dead on arrival.

Lately, there have been rumblings from bureaucrats and tax funded lobbyists complaining about the burdens of open records laws. Government entities often propose changes to the law to make it more difficult to make requests.

For instance, Canada charges $5 for simply submitting an open records request, and some Texas bureaucrats would like to follow suit. The charge is often framed as a deterrent to what ethics and transparency bureaucrats label “vexatious requesters.”

While vexatious requesters may exist, they are the exception, not the rule. All Texans should not be punished for the actions of a select few. The truth is most lawmakers receive less than a handful of requests every year.

Texas should be a state where disclosure is the rule and not the exception, and those disclosures should be made quickly and free of charge.

During Sunshine Week, the U.S. Congress passed a measure that would make disclosure the default. This should make things cheaper, which is often not the case with requests for information, especially when controversial information is sought.

Could it be that government entities refusing to comply with the purpose of open records laws is causing vexatious requesters to send more and more requests? When citizens feel like their government is dragging its feet or hiding something, it usually leads them to ask more questions and make more requests.

Another bureaucratic trick is to slow responses to open record requests to a snails pace. Bureaucrats hope to outlast requestors using months and months of delays.

Transparency makes Texas government stronger. Open records requestors are doing a civic duty and should be lauded for their vigilance. We should work to clear obstacles from their path, not to create them.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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