Friday, September 28, 2012

UPDATE: 5th Circ. Upholds Texas Open Meetings Act Sanctions

New Orleans - CBD: John Minor Wisdom United St...
(Photo credit: wallyg)
In Diana Asgeirsson, Alpine Council Member, et al. v. Texas Attorney General (Case No. 11-50441), a three-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit this week unanimously upheld a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act ("TOMA") [Tex. Govt. Code Sec. 551.001(3)] that subjects violators to misdemeanor penalties of up to a year in jail and a maximum $500 fine, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Local government officials in  15 communities, including  Wichita Falls and Sugar Land, have been fighting the measure for more than six years on First Amendment grounds, and are weighing an appeal before the entire 17-judge Fifth Circuit. (See "TUOL" posts 7/29/10 & 12/15/09.)

Discussing public business behind close doors, the appellate court wrote, "would decrease government transparency, and the state has determined that the benefits of making these discussions public outweigh any harm done by the disclosure of information."  TOMA does not apply to the governor, executive-level policymakers or the state legislature, the Chronicle article noted.
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