TxDOT backing off some, but still wants to control how private citizens share toll rate info and muzzle free speech on the internet!

See how TxDOT’s illegal antics continue to unfold. Follow the saga here…

Driscoll’s blog.

Contact the Express-News and ask why this isn’t a front page story. Our government is willfully breaking Open Records laws and attempting to muzzle free speech on the internet!

Government Editor: Mark Langford, mlangford@express-news.net
Public Editor: Bob Richter, richter@express-news.net

Mmmm … maybe not
By Pat Driscoll
May 11, 2006

State officials are backing off a gag order involving a study for Bandera Road toll lanes.

The feasibility study is available to the public, but Texas Department of Transportation officials wanted to control how it’s distributed. They told Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party that she would have to sign an agreement (see last five pages) to not share the information with anyone without state permission.

The Legislature passed a law in 1995 and amended it two years later (see below or section 201.205 in the Transportation Code) to protect certain public records as intellectual property, TxDOT attorney Sharon Alexander told me. The purpose is to make sure people don’t sell or covet state data as their own.

“It’s definitely public information but we can restrict the use,” she said.

It’s not exactly clear …

… how citizens are supposed to get permission to publicly discuss or distribute copyrighted public records. Alexander said she didn’t see a problem with people reciting such information in speeches or debates but putting it on the Web would need state approval.

“I’m not trying to defend the idea, I’m just saying that’s my understanding of it,” she said.

It’s also not clear what’s so valuable about the Bandera toll-lane study. TxDOT engineers say they’re worried that the report, which is very preliminary, could be construed as final. But Alexander said that’s not a legitimate concern under public information laws.

“The public is entitled to consider the numbers that we’re considering and give us their feedback,” the TxDOT attorney said.

The issue may have come up sooner when Hall asked for studies on toll lanes and ramps on U.S. 281, Loop 1604, Interstate 35 and Wurzbach Parkway, but Alexander said she was under the impression that those studies had already been made public. Hall got what was available in those reports at no charge.

But now it’s questionable …

.. whether the issue may come up again on toll studies anytime soon. TxDOT officials today rethought their position and decided to rescind the mandate for a non-disclosure agreement, and will tell Hall in a letter that could go out tomorrow, spokesman Randall Dillard told me shortly after the close of business.

The agency is also waiving its $110 upfront fee just to see the study. I’m not sure if that also applies to getting a copy but I’m sure the letter will spell that out. I’ll post the letter when I get it.

Meanwhile, here’s the applicable law …

AND PUBLICATIONS. (a) The department may:
(1) apply for, register, secure, hold, and protect
under the laws of the United States, any state, or any nation a
patent, copyright, trademark, or other evidence of protection or
exclusivity issued in or for an idea, publication, or other
original innovation fixed in a tangible medium, including:
(A) a literary work;
(B) a logo;
(C) a service mark;
(D) a study;
(E) a map or planning document;
(F) an engineering, architectural, or graphic
(G) a manual;
(H) automated systems software;
(I) an audiovisual work;
(J) a sound recording; or
(K) travel literature, including a pamphlet,
bulletin, book, map, periodical, or electronic information
published or produced under Section 3, Chapter 193, Acts of the 56th
Legislature, Regular Session, 1959 (Article 6144e, Vernon’s Texas
Civil Statutes);
(2) enter into a nonexclusive license agreement with a
third party for the receipt of a fee, royalty, or other thing of
monetary or nonmonetary value;
(3) waive or reduce the amount of a fee, royalty, or
other thing of monetary or nonmonetary value to be assessed if the
department determines that the waiver will:
(A) further the goals and missions of the
department; and
(B) result in a net benefit to the state; and
(4) adopt and enforce rules necessary to implement
this section.
(b) Money paid to the department under this section shall be
deposited to the credit of the state highway fund.

Added by Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 165, § 30.07(a), eff. Sept. 1,