Nuclear Plant, Water Security Measures Go to Texas House Panel
A Texas House committee heard two bills to keep secret information on nuclear power plants, water supplies and other vulnerable facilities that supporters said would provide a "road map for terrorists" if made public.
A bill by Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, would classify as confidential information gathered and maintained by governmental entities on risk or vulnerability assessments, construction or assembly of weapons, communications systems and emergency response providers.
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would exempt from the state's open meetings law any deliberations and information "regarding safety, security, or integrity of public water and sewer systems."
The lawmakers said the state has no choice but to restrict some sunshine laws because of the threats of terrorism. The House State Affairs Committee postponed any action on the measures.
As evidence of the problems, Allen said that on Sept. 18, 2001, a city in his district got a request under the state open records law for detailed information on the city's drinking water system.
"The city was forced to give that information to a perfect stranger nine days after the attacks" on New York and Washington, D.C., he said. He did not identify the city or the person seeking the information.
Geren said that unless the law is changed, governmental entities would have to allow anyone to sit in on meetings in which officials prepare the risk assessments to their water systems that they must provide the federal government by the end of this month.
"Some opponents of this bill argue that Osama bin Laden is not going to make an open records request. Our response to that is that we never thought they would run two airliners into the World Trade Center," Geren said.
"We cannot and we should not underestimate the creativeness of those individuals who may attempt to harm our society."
Allen's bill got support from the Texas Daily Newspaper Association, the Texas Municipal League and Common Cause of Texas, among others.
The newspaper association, the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and others expressed reservations about Geren's measure.