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No significant fiscal implication to the State or units of local government is anticipated.
SB 1697 would amend the Government Code’s chapter entitled “Public Information” to stipulate that certain information regarding the handling of substances used in executions in Texas are confidential for the purposes of the Texas Public Information Act. The practical purpose of this bill is to keep confidential the names of people who handle these substances as well as the vendors they are procured from, method of transport, and other relevant details.
In a government that is limited and responsive to the people, transparency is vital. The state of Texas recognized this and implemented the Texas Freedom of Information Act to provide rules and protocols governing what information is appropriate for public access and by what mechanism information should be either released to the public or kept confidential.
The Government Code expresses in the most eloquent manner that;
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.”
It is also true that a limited government, in order to effectively carry out its lawful responsibilities and obligations must keep some information confidential. It is appropriate to keep some information entirely clandestine. This is most easily apparent with regard to national security and military issues.
The tension between what to keep confidential and what to make publicly available is usually centered around issues of political controversy. Some public officials may wish to keep things confidential which could be personally or professionally embarrassing. For obvious reasons political adversaries would want to gain access to this information in order to create or press an advantage.
The issue at hand in this legislation is strictly a policy issue. Execution for certain heinous offences is legal in Texas. The standards for carrying out an execution are specific and inflexible. Some activists who would like to end execution in Texas prefer to do so by cutting off the source of the cocktail of drugs used to carry out lethal injections. The information this legislation seeks to keep confidential is key to achieving that objective.
Without commenting on the merits of the policy of execution itself, which is not the subject of this bill, we support the intent of the bill to enable the state to carry out its legal obligations without undue interference. There is an appropriate way - via the legislative process - to address the merits of the death penalty. Bullying vendors or targeting state employees is not a legitimate method of advancing a public policy objective.
Based on these considerations it is our view that maintaining the confidentiality of the information subject to the purposes of this bill is within the legitimate role of state government. Consequently, we support SB 1697.