A Texas Activist was arrested after recording an open committee hearing. Legislators seem to be interpreting the law to suit themselves and thwart transparency.
This afternoon a woman was removed from a committee hearing at the Texas state capitol, and arrested for attempting to record the meeting. Amy Hedtke, a long-time political activist in the state, attended a meeting of the House State Affairs Committee, prepared to offer testimony and record testimony by others on HB 200, a bill dealing with abortion restrictions and the disposition of fetal remains after abortion.
Hedtke and others working with her had noticed these signs outside committee meetings, stating that only credentialed press were allowed to record committee meetings. An examination of the law, however, convinced them that the signs were in violation of state law.
The code reads:
Sec. 551.023. RECORDING OF MEETING BY PERSON IN ATTENDANCE. (a) 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.
(b) A governmental body may adopt reasonable rules to maintain order at a meeting, including rules relating to:
(1) the location of recording equipment; and
(2) the manner in which the recording is conducted.
(c) A rule adopted under Subsection (b) may not prevent or unreasonably impair a person from exercising a right granted under Subsection (a).
The signs also note that the meetings are broadcast live ad archived online, but this notice was posted where the live feeds are usually broadcast:
A legislator we contacted on the issue was unaware of the arrest, but claims that the section above doesn’t apply to legislative hearings, and that committee chairmen get to decide who may film meetings or whether they can be filmed at all. The signs state that only credentialed capitol media may film the hearings, but the code does not omit hearings from the definition of ‘open meetings’. ‘Another example of legislators having different rules for the public than from themselves.’ he added.
Wesley Thomas, another member of the group with Hedtke, said that the committee chair, Byron Cook, had about a dozen DPS officers waiting at the hearing before it began. When a staffer asked her to turn off the camera, she cited the open meetings law and kept filming, until forced to stop by the DPS officers. Following her removal from the meeting room, she was handcuffed and taken outside, where she was placed in a state trooper vehicle and driven away. Sources following the story now say that she has since been charged with resisting arrest and criminal trespass, and that the committee chairman is tossing people from the meeting who aren’t sitting in chairs.
My take? Transparency has been a buzzword of late, both in state and national politics. So has who constitutes ‘media’ in the age of instant internet coverage. State officials attempting to shut down recording that isn’t obstructive looks like a severe lack of transparency. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either; other activists, such as Daniel Woodworth, are adding their voices to the outcry over Amy’s arrest. And barring the general public from recording public open meetings, especially when the excuse for doing so – that they already provide a live feed – isn’t working, treats them as subjects rather than citizens. Texas citizens should demand that lawmakers follow the law rather than their convenient interpretation, and allow citizens the ability to record ALL open meetings as the law states. Anything less is unacceptable.
We’ll update this story as it continues to develop.
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