Editor’s Note: Neither Rep. Byron Cook, his chief of staff, nor Speaker Straus’ office have returned messages about this story. But on April 11, 2017, state Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who chairs the Committee on House Administration, said the House rules of procedure prevail over the Texas Open Meetings Act. Geren wrote: “Pursuant to and under the authority of Section 11, Article III, Texas Constitution, and not withstanding any provision of statute, the House of Representatives adopts the following rules to govern its operations and procedures. The provisions of these rules shall be deemed the only requirements binding on the House of Representatives under Section 11, Article III, Texas Constitution, notwithstanding any other requirements expressed in statute.”
AUSTIN – A woman from Waxahachie was arrested and charged with trespassing for trying to video a House committee hearing under the Texas Open Meetings Act.
It happened at the House State Affairs committee meeting on March 22.
Amy Hedtke’s first court date scheduled for Wednesday was postponed.
Four signs inside and outside the committee room that day stated that only credentialed journalists can record the hearing.
"State law says you cannot prohibit attendees from recording,” said Hedtke to a legislative staffer on the video she posted to Facebook.
“Um, the rules of the House have precedence over that [and] the Constitution, as well,” that committee staffer responded to her.
But Hedtke might have the law on her side. The Texas Open Meetings Act states that “a person in attendance may record all or any part of an open meeting of a governmental body by means of a recorder, video camera, or other means of aural or visual reproduction.”
Representative Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, chairs that committee and brought the hearing to order on March 22.
After roll was called, Cook stated: "Only credentialed media is allowed to film and record. Anybody else will be asked to leave."
Moments later, as Hedtke sat in the back of the room, a state trooper and several legislative staffers told her to stop recording or leave.
"I have the right to stay," protested Hedtke on the video.
“Ma'am I need you to leave. I need you to get your things and leave," a trooper told her on the video.
Both the trooper and legislative staffers could be heard saying again that the chairman can supersede the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Hedtke was arrested for trespassing.
"Their response was pure emotion," she told WFAA on Wednesday.
Like all elected officials, Chairman Cook is supposed to take a class on the Open Meetings Act.
No one answered the telephone at his capitol office on Wednesday afternoon. Calls went to voicemail and that message was not returned.
Cook’s chief of staff did not immediately return an email this afternoon and the House parliamentarian's office did not respond to a request through Speaker Joe Straus’ office either.
The Texas House is getting ready for an all nighter on Thursday as representatives prepare to debate the budget.
But former Dallas County GOP chairman Wade Emmert said the law is clear on open meetings.
"The chairman can impose certain rules to keep order but he can't impair someone's right to record audio or video in a meeting," explained Emmert.
As chairman, Byron Cook can have someone thrown out of the meeting is the person is being disruptive.
But neither troopers nor legislative staffers ever accused Hedtke of being disruptive. They kept saying she could not record in the committee hearing despite state law.
That's why Hedtke is planning her own civil lawsuit.
"My ultimate goal in any civil suit is to make sure those signs that prohibit recording are never seen in the capitol again," she said. "There should be zero ambiguity over whether a citizen can peacefully record an open meeting of their government.”
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