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Texas taking steps to make government more open

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AMARILLO - The concept of open government is taking a whole new meaning in Texas.

Come September 1, Texas will be the first state in the nation to provide government officials a way to deliberate public business while not in a public meeting.

Another new law will give citizens a way to make sure those conversations stay public.

Agendas and minutes for just about any government meeting can be found online, but right now it's illegal for government officials, elected or appointed, to deliberate public issues outside of a public meeting.

"It's a felony," Randall County Judge Ernie Houdeshell said. "It's a serious crime in the state of Texas to break open meetings."

Senate Bill 1297 gives officials a way to deliberate with each other and the public away from scheduled meetings through online message boards.

Online chat rooms will not be required and Houdashell says he's not sure if the county will create one. But he does believe such a tool would be beneficial in keeping a check on public employees.

"It's important that you don't get a good ol' boy or girl club going on really. It's important that it is done in a democratic way, it's important that everybody does stay autonomous and it's important that they make up their own mind," he said.

Senate Bill 1368 gives citizens the right to access the personal text messages, emails, or any other electronic communication of government officials through open records requests.

Houdashell says any government entity that follows the law shouldn't have any complaints about the new law, but he doesn't necessarily believe it's necessary in Randall County.
 
"If you're really really interesting in what's going on about you and about the community and about the people that you elect, you get up out of your chair and you go to the meetings," he said.

Another law already in effect allows public officials to be part of official meetings via video
conference.

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