Attorney General Greg Abbott is Backing Bill to Push Elected Officials' Written Debate Online

Last week's City Council meeting, at which City Manager Mary Suhm was alternately grilled and applauded over her side deal to allow natural gas drilling on city parkland, was an amazing piece of political theater. How could it not be, what with Vonciel Jones Hill donning her preacher voice and comparing Suhm to Jesus on the cross?

But why does the spectacle have to stop in the council chambers? Why can't Hill and Angela Hunt trade barbs after-hours, in a public online forum updated in real time?

Soon, they may be able to. Attorney General Greg Abbott today threw his support behind a bill filed today that will, as he phrased it in a press release, "bring the Open Meetings Act into the 21st century." That sounds boring but the legislation, filed by Senator Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, would require that any written communication between members of a city council or other state or local governing body happening in an online forum be easily accessible by the public.

Current law requires that basically any meeting at which a majority of members of a governing body be open to the public -- with huge exceptions for private executive sessions -- but it says nothing about texts, instant messaging or email. Watson's bill addresses that by requiring such exchanges of information to take place in public view. Use of the message board would be limited to members of the governing body and select staff members, presumably to avoid contamination by the Internet.

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