Texas Open Meetings Act-One Provision Struck Down by Criminal Court of AppealsSomervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


Texas Open Meetings Act-One Provision Struck Down by Criminal Court of Appeals

28 February 2019 at 10:09:50 AM


Part excerpted below in the question of whether part of TOMA is unconstitutionally vague.

A provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) makes it a crime if a member or group of members of a governmental body “knowingly conspires to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of this chapter.” We 1 conclude that this provision is unconstitutionally vague on its face. Consequently, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and affirm the trial court’s judgment dismissing the prosecution.

...We have a duty to employ a reasonable narrowing construction to avoid a constitutional violation, but we can employ such a construction only if the statute is readily susceptible to one. 74 We may not rewrite a statute that is not subject to a narrowing construction, because such a rewriting “constitutes a serious invasion of the legislative domain.” A statute is readily subject to a 75 narrowing construction only “if the language already in the statute can be construed in a narrow manner. Adding language to a statute is legislating from the bench.” Even when faced with a 76 vague statute, we will not impose a narrowing construction when one “would add significant content not now present in the statute and could be fashioned in a number of different ways.” In 77 considering a narrowing construction, we should take into account that vague laws, even when not overtly invidious, “invite the exercise of arbitrary power . . . by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up.”78 We do not doubt the legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act. But the statute before us wholly lacks any specificity, and any narrowing construction we could impose would be just a guess, an imposition of our own judicial views. This we decline to do. F. Conclusion In light of the above discussion, we conclude that § 551.143 is unconstitutionally vague on its face. We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday struck down a key provision of the state’s Open Meetings Act, finding the section that makes it a crime for government officials to meet secretly to discuss the public’s business is “unconstitutionally vague.”

The ruling makes such violations no longer punishable as crimes in Texas, so long as the meetings do not involve a majority of a governing board such as a school district, city council or county commission.

“The court stuck a knife into the heart of the Open Meetings Act,” said Joe Larsen, a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas who has worked on the case. “It’s the real world where the consequences are going to be backroom deals hidden from the public.”


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