After five years and $254,000, DPS keeps Capitol video hidden BY DAVE MANN PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK T ALL STARTED WITH A RUMOR. Late in the 2005 legislative session, a con tentious floor debate was riling up the Texas House. The scuttlebutt was that a wealthy Republican campaign donor was lingering in the back hall, twisting lawmakers’ arms to vote his way. To confirm the rumor, The Texas Observer filed a public information request for video footage from the security camera in the back hallway. That launched a five-year court battle between the magazine and the Texas Department of Public Safety over what constitutes public information and whether government agencies can keep video from public buildings secret. The saga ended in late April when a state appeals courtin an opinion that open-government advocates are calling misguidedruled that the video could be withheld. The ruling could prevent reporters and the public from obtaining video from courthouses, city halls or any government building in Texas. The Department of Public Safety spent quite a bit of public money to keep the tapes hidden. The agency paid $254,727 to private attorneys to handle the case, according to agency records. The DPS, citing broad language in a 2003 homeland security law, argued that releasing the security tapes could make the Texas Capitol vulnerable to terrorism. The Texas attorney general’s office, which joined the Observer in arguing the tapes were public infor mation, didn’t buy DPS’s argument. Neither did a state district judge, who ordered the video released. But on April 29, the 3rd District Texas Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the tapes were confidential. Austin attorney Jeremy Wright, who represented the Observer, says the ruling goes against Texas’ long tradition of open government. Texas has one of the strongest public-information statutes in the country, and state courts have long favored the release of government material. But it’s now uncertain whether video of government officials in a public building recorded with public moneywill ever be available to the public. THE DISPUTE BEGAN on May 23, 2005, when House members were heatedly debating public school vouchers. There were loud whispers around the House floor that James Leiningera prolific contributor to Republican campaigns and major supporter of school voucherswas lingering in the hall behind the House chamber, lobbying recalcitrant Republicans to vote for his coveted voucher proposal. This seemed plausible; then-House Speaker Tom Craddick was hauling GOP House members into his office for arm-twisting sessions in a last-ditch \(and Leininger’s presence in the hallway would have violated House rules, which forbid lobbyists from entering the House floor and the adjacent back hall THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG
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