AUSTIN –– Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Sen. Kirk Watson touted a bill introduced Thursday that would allow elected bodies to hold open meetings online.
Abbott, who is responsible for enforcing open meeting laws, said the bill would catch the Open Meetings Act up with modern technology. Watson, a former Austin City Council member, said allowing elected officials to use an Internet chat room to publicly hammer out new measures will speed up decision-making.
"This will create the opportunity for a virtual work session, the city council, the commissioner's court, the school board, or any other public entity will have the opportunity to ask questions of one another," Watson said. The Democratic lawmaker said it would open those meetings to anyone who wants to monitor them online, and the conversations would be posted for 30 days and then archived for two years.
Abbott, a Republican, said the bill does not force public officials to adopt the technology, but allows a new option for holding public meetings. Officials would still have to hear public testimony and vote on measures at an official in-person meeting.
"Texas has had some of the strongest open government laws in the nation. Though these laws continue to protect the transparency that is so vital to democracy, the public always benefits when modern technology is harnessed to make government more accessible," Abbott said. "It will allow these public officials to be more productive, they won't have to wait for the next meeting to communicate with each other."
Under the Open Meetings Act, a quorum of elected officials cannot meet and discuss public business without posting notice of an official meeting and inviting the public. Watson said the rule slows down decision-making, but is necessary to ensure government transparency.
The bill would allow public officials to hold electronic meetings using an Internet chat room that the public could monitor live but not participate in. Officials could still only vote at an official, public meeting.