Keith Loria Jul. 13, 2010, 10:32am
AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a brief on Monday that defended the Texas Open Meetings Act, which is intended to protect transparency and openness in government.
Abbott argues in the brief that TOMA promotes the fundamental principle of democratic government because it requires all members of commissions and governmental boards to conduct the taxpayers' business in a way that the public is aware of everything.
"Openness in government is a First Amendment virtue, not a First Amendment violation," Abbott's brief says.
"The fundamental purpose of the First Amendment is to enable and empower people to engage in free, robust discourse about their government, its officials, and the policies they adopt on their behalf."
Several Texas cities and local officials are challenging the law's constitutionality in federal court. These officials have asked the federal district court in Pecos to overturn TOMA because they believe the act's criminal provisions violate the First Amendment.
TOMA requires that when a quorum of officials from local city councils or county commissions plan to discuss business related to the public, they are required to post a public notice beforehand and hold meetings that anyone can freely attend. If public business is discussed outside of an open meeting by such a quorum, it is considered illegal.
There are certain exceptions to this rule. Closed sessions may be held if officials need to talk about confidential matters.