Texas gets public comments right

I love my readers, especially Jay Madewell, who slipped this link to me.

It seems, someone in Texas realized that silencing the public at meetings when you are supposedly doing their business- is WRONG.

Dayton used to allow people to speak before votes on city manager recommendations, and again at public comments, and again if there was a “public hearing.” You didn’t have to turn in your “speaking form” before the meeting began, and there didn’t used to be a 3 minute time limit. A lot of those changes were done to shut me up (sorry). If you need to know about how far I tried to go to make sure they weren’t doing business in secret- and how it cost the taxpayers a ton of money see this post about “The Ninja.” The reality is- every meeting of a public body with elected members doing public business should be on video, placed on YouTube- and the agenda and the votes recorded in a way that is ADA compliant. Same goes for campaign finance reports btw.

Because of me- the Dayton school board now broadcasts their “review sessions” – but they don’t allow citizens to talk during them.

Right now, the Ohio Sunshine Law is a joke. Citizens are expected to enforce it- despite court filing fees almost equaling the amount of the fine that citizens can receive for doing the peoples work. On the flipside- the people who break the law- waste tax dollars protecting them from breaking the laws. Even though the Sunshine laws provide for a penalty of removal from office for violating the rules- no one ever gets removed from office.

This law in Texas is amazing and needs to be adopted here, as well as revising our “Sunshine Laws” to provide assistance to citizens reporting violations, and actual penalties against politicians who think they are better than us.

Meet House Bill 2840, which became law last month.

Simply, the law, which went into effect on Sept. 1, requires all government meetings (city councils, county commissions, school boards, hospital districts, public colleges) to open up their meetings to public comments in a much bigger way.

Now most governments schedule a “Persons to be Heard” segment, where you sign up to speak at the beginning or, worse, at the tail end.

Some governments across the state don’t allow members of the public to speak at all.

Until now, allowing the public to speak was not mandatory under law. Now it is.

Under the new law, a person can speak to a government body at the start of the meeting, at the end, and most important, before a vote on every listed agenda item.

This is unheard of. Previously, most governments allowed comments at some point, but only rarely did leaders let the public speak on individual agenda items during their deliberations. Usually, they only allowed such comments when public hearings are required by law.

This is huge. If you want to talk on Items 1, 4, 6 and 9 on the agenda, just raise your hand. Governments can’t stop you.

Well, if they do, they are in violation of the new law.

Even better, the law makes it clear that governments cannot block criticism by their constituents…

TV time

Under a 2-year-old law I studied previously, all public meetings of governments in larger counties must videotape their meetings and post them online.

With this new law, that promises to give members of the public not only a chance to influence their elected leaders, but also to pass their viewpoint into the community through free media.

That, too, is a big deal.

School boards notified

The Texas Association of School Boards notified its members that “opportunities for public comment on agenda items will be required for every board meeting, not just regular meetings, and includes special-called meetings and workshops.”

One school district in Killeen announced it won’t hold board workshops anymore, just regular meetings to comply, kdhnews.com reports.

Allowing citizen participation at workshops (informal planning meetings) is not a common occurrence. Now it’s required.

The new law also makes it illegal to play the old trick of putting “Persons to be Heard” at the end of a meeting. That forced would-be speakers often to wait late into the evening. It was too much of a hassle, and the item in question usually had already been voted on.

Source: A cool new Texas law you never heard of means they can’t shut you up at government meetings anymore

The whole reason I got into politics is because when I went to my elected “leaders” for help with actions of city employees- I didn’t feel like I was even heard.

That’s the first thing that’s going to change when I get elected to the Dayton City Commission- along with the public speaking policy, which will be re-written to match this Texas law.

H.B. No. 2840

AN ACT

relating to the right of a member of the public to address the governing body of a political subdivision at an open meeting of the body.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1.  Subchapter A, Chapter 551, Government Code, is amended by adding Section 551.007 to read as follows:

Sec. 551.007.  PUBLIC TESTIMONY.  (a)  This section applies only to a governmental body described by Sections 551.001(3)(B)-(L).

(b)  A governmental body shall allow each member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an agenda for an open meeting of the body to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during the body’s consideration of the item.

(c)  A governmental body may adopt reasonable rules regarding the public’s right to address the body under this section, including rules that limit the total amount of time that a member of the public may address the body on a given item.

(d)  This subsection applies only if a governmental body does not use simultaneous translation equipment in a manner that allows the body to hear the translated public testimony simultaneously.  A rule adopted under Subsection (c) that limits the amount of time that a member of the public may address the governmental body must provide that a member of the public who addresses the body through a translator must be given at least twice the amount of time as a member of the public who does not require the assistance of a translator in order to ensure that non-English speakers receive the same opportunity to address the body.

(e)  A governmental body may not prohibit public criticism of the governmental body, including criticism of any act, omission, policy, procedure, program, or service. This subsection does not apply to public criticism that is otherwise prohibited by law.

SECTION 2.  This Act takes effect September 1, 2019.

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