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Technology Bills Aim to Bring Transparency, Protection

By Ender Reed
TAC Legislative Staff

As technology continues to develop and improve dramatically, it has become the driving force in fostering greater government efficiency. This increased efficiency can often result in the delivery of better services for taxpayers and lower costs for governmental bodies.

The Texas House of Representatives, recognizing the critical role of technology in government, created a Technology Committee during the 82nd Legislative Session to deal solely with legislation pertaining to technology issues. A few technology bills passed during the session will directly affect the operations of county government.

One of these bills is HB 2338 by Rep. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney), which mandates a “Truth in Taxation Summary” be placed on county websites. The bill requires the tax assessor-collector to post certain property tax information on the county’s website, if the county maintains one.

The assessor-collector is expected to post the adopted tax rate, the maintenance and operations rate, the debt rate, the effective tax rate, the effective maintenance and operations rate, and the rollback tax rate for all taxing units in the county. The posting will begin with information from the most recent five years beginning with the year 2012.

The comptroller will prescribe the manner in which the information must be presented on the website. Concurrent with the “Truth in Taxation Summary” legislation, under SB 1692 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), the comptroller will be mandated to provide a link on its website to the websites of each municipality and county that provides budget information for that entity.

Another bill worth highlighting is HB 3333 by Rep. Aaron Peña (R-Edinburg). This legislation allows the governor to order the Department of Information Resources to disconnect a computer network from the Internet in the event of a “substantial threat to the computer network.”

Given the prevalence of hacking groups — such as Anonymous— seeking to infiltrate government websites, as well as the revelation of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, government website security bills will likely become more prominent in future sessions.

Though HB 3333 generally limits the governor’s authority to shutting down state agency websites, if a county has contracted with the Department of Information Resources to manage its network security, then the governor would also have authority to shut down that county’s website.