Government transparency bill passes Texas House

Enrique Iglesias is seen performing at the McAllen Holiday Parade in this 2015 file photo. Sparked by the city of McAllen not disclosing how much it paid Iglesias to perform, a bill has since been authored that would prevent governments from paying for public events with public funds and keeping those contracts private. (Joel Martinez | jmarrinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — A bill authored by State Rep. Terry Canales that would prevent governments from paying for public events, such as parades or concerts, with public funds and keeping those contracts private passed the Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday.

House Bill 81 passed the House with none of the 148 state representatives voting in opposition, as 147 voted in favor of the legislation with one member not at his desk at the time of the vote. He said he would have voted alongside his colleagues.

The bill, which stemmed from a private contract the city of McAllen entered with singer Enrique Iglesias for its annual holiday parade, now heads to the Senate where an identical bill will be carried by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.

The House Research Organization analyzed arguments from supporters and opponents to the bill. Supporters said it would improve the transparency and accountability of local governments by removing a loophole in the Public Information Act. As for opponents to the bill, the House Research Organization said: “No concerns identified.”

In the months following that 2015 holiday parade, McAllen revealed that it lost $765,000 on the annual parade festivities when Iglesias performed, but it has never disclosed how much it paid Iglesias. The State Attorney General’s Office ruled at the time that McAllen was allowed to keep the contract with Iglesias private, citing a 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling in the case of Boeing Co. v. Paxton allowing for records being kept secret if their release puts the government or businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

After McAllen’s disclosure, Mayor Jim Darling at the time acknowledged that the city would never act as a promoter again for the holiday parade, and since then, the city has not.

The Boeing decision has been cited more than 1,500 times, blocking the release of information to the public since the case closed, the attorney general’s office has said. Darling on Thursday defended the city’s transparency.

“The bottom line is, we disclosed exactly what it would’ve cost for this production and let the media and everyone else know exactly what we lost,” Darling said. “Obviously I was not pleased that we lost money on the production and we haven’t done anything like that since, but I don’t understand why they keep using McAllen as an example.”

The mayor added about the bill, “In my opinion, it’s for political purposes, because newspapers will be behind it.”

Darling said the state legislature should be more focused on the lack of transparency in Austin.

“I think they ought to work on the transparency in the state government,” Darling said. “I have more important things in the legislature that we’re working on.”

But does he support House Bill 81?

“I don’t care,” Darling said, pausing for a few seconds. “I’m sour about this today, could you tell?”