Texas FOIA procedures
Each state varies slightly in the procedures used to gain access to public documents. This article serves to describe specifically the steps used in Texas. To read the history and details of Texas’s sunshine laws please see Texas Public Information Act
How to request public records in Texas
Records request should be directed to the public agency in possession of the desired records.
Purpose and use
The reason that a requestor has for asking for records cannot be taken into consideration. Section 552.222 of the TPIA prohibits the custodian of the records from asking questions of the requestor other than to:
- Establish the requester's identification.
- Clarify a request if the governmental body is unclear as to what information is requested, and to attempt to narrow a request that seeks a large amount of information.
Section 552.223 specifically says that agencies must treat all requests the same, regardless of who is making the request.
The law says nothing about what can be done with public documents, once they are obtained by a requestor.
Who may request public records?
The TPIA allows anyone to request public information. A requester need not be a Texas resident. Section 552.221(a) says that custodians of records must make the records available to "any person."
- See also: How much do public records cost?
The TPIA allows a government agency to charge for "all costs" associated with making copies of public information, including:
- The cost of materials.
- Labor. (See also: Sunshine laws and search fees.)
- Overhead costs.
- Agencies can charge for the cost they incur in deleting information from the records that is exempt.
- If a particular request is for 50 or fewer pages of paper records, the agency is not allowed to charge for labor and overhead but is limited to charging a reasonable per-copy fee. (There's an additional fee that can be added if the agency has to collect the records from more than one building, or if the records or in "a remote storage facility."
Role of AG
The attorney general of Texas maintains an Open Records Division, which plays the role of mediator and sometimes judge in open-records disputes. If a governmental body feels requested information is exempt in whole or in part from release under the Public Information Act, then the governmental body must write to the attorney general's office and request an open records letter ruling in its favor. The requestor of the information may also submit written arguments as to why the information should be released
In 2005, the state legislature amended TPIA to say that it is up to the state's attorney general, not to individual agencies, to decide what a reasonable copying fee is.
If the agency concludes that the records will cost more than $40, it has to provide the person who wants the records with a written, itemized statement laying out the estimated costs in some detail.
A government agency is allowed to provide records for free or at a reduced price if:
- ."..the governmental body determines that waiver or reduction of the charge is in the public interest because providing the copy of the information primarily benefits the general public."
- The cost to the agency of billing/bookkeeping for changes will exceed the amount of the charge.
- Members of the state legislature are entitled to one free copy of public information that is requested from a state agency.
- See also: Request response times by state
Texas law requires governmental bodies to "promptly produce" public information.. Confusion sometimes arises because the law also stipulates that if a governmental body intends to question the release of part or all of the information, then it has 10 business days to request an open records letter ruling from the attorney general. If the governmental body intends to make the information available, then the public information officer for the governmental body must either make it available within 10 business days or certify that it cannot produce the information in that timeframe but estimate when it will be able to release the information.
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