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Open Government

Legislators vote to restore some Texas government sunshine

A measure reviving the public's ability to review much of how Texas is spending taxpayer money has cleared the legislature and is expected to win the signature of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Enactment of the bill will assure that information about contracts that state agencies (and municipal governments, boards and commissions) make with businesses are public records with only a few exceptions. State and local officials have been able to keep much of that information secret for the past four years, because the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that public records requests could be denied in cases where sunshine could give a contractor's competitors an advantage.

That court decision gained notoriety soon after, when the border city of McAllen refused to say how much it paid singer Enrique Iglesias to perform at a festival that lost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Efforts to codify contractor transparency failed in the legislature two years ago but were revived, the Houston Chronicle reported, after a coalition was formed by the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation and left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

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Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

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