Texas Open Meetings Act Does NOT Restrict Freedom of Speech-Judge Rules on LawsuitSomervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas

Smackdown to Texas Municipal League (TML)

Texas Open Meetings Act Does NOT Restrict Freedom of Speech-Judge Rules on Lawsuit

26 March 2011 at 6:23:02 PM

We've been waiting for what seems like a very long time to find out what the courts would say, AGAIN, about a lawsuit brought by TML and some other plaintiffs, including Mel LeBlanc of Arlington. Some elected officials had been discussing government business over email with a quorum of officials and argued that this did not violate Texas Open Meetings Act (this has also been done at a local level), and in fact, that their freedom of speech rights were being curtailed by having to discuss business, gasp, in public, at an open meeting, instead of over email. The plaintiffs in a related case had been ruled against in 2006, Court saying that TOMA did not violate Plaintiffs .. First Amendment rights because open meetings were required pursuant to their official duties on Alpine City Council. From pg 3

Once again, this Court confronts the question of whether the criminal provisions of TOMA, specifically Section 551.155 violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. A core purpose of TOMA is to enable the public to have access to the actual decision-making process of its governmental bodies. ...

The Plaintiffs argued that TOMA is unconstitutionally vague because Texas officials do not know what is proscribed, that it is overbroad because it prohibits a substantial amount of constitutionally protected conduct,  violates the First Amendment because it causes Plaintiffs to suppress their speech in fear of criminal prosecution and discriminates against speakers based on their identity.

I like this, from page 13. The principle below is why I felt (and still do) strongly about this.

Texas citizens are entitled to more than a result. They are entitled not only to know what government decides but to observe how and why every decision is reached. The explicit command of the statute is for openness at every stage of the deliberation.

TML (Texas Municipal League) was leading the charge on this. (Listen also to the Texas Senate meeting last year)

Do Open Meetings restrict governmental officials free speech because they have to discuss ideas at a posted open meeting INSTEAD of over email with the group? Nope. p 16

By requiring open meetings, TOMA ensures that ideas or viewpoints are injected into the marketplace. Plaintiffs and Texas public officials, in general, are not in danger of having their ideas or viewpoints driven from the marketplace by TOMA. Instead, their election to public office allows them a bullhorn for their ideas. Plaintiffs are merely asked to limit their group discussions about these ideas to forums in which the public may participate.

Here's the PDF from the Texas OAG (Attorney General) website that has the entire ruling.

As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.

“Openness in government is a First Amendment virtue, not a First Amendment violation."


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1 - salon   12 Oct 2012 @ 12:25:44 PM 

And another-federal court upholds TOMA

A long-running legal attack on the Texas Open Meetings Act has failed another legal test, with a federal appeals court ruling today that the law meets First Amendment requirements.

City Council members from around the state and the Texas Municipal League have argued that the act violates free-speech rights. Elected officials, the plaintiffs say, should not be prevented from communicating with one another outside public meetings.

But the act is not a “content-based restriction on political speech,” the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said in upholding a trial court’s ruling. “The statute does not apply to government officials because of any hostility to their views.”

The appeals court reiterated the lower court’s summary of the harm caused by closed meetings: They “(1) prevent transparency; (2) encourage fraud and corruption; and (3) foster mistrust in government.”

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