Texas Public Information Act

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The Public Information Act of Texas (TPIA) is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Texas. Texas Government Code, Chapter 552, gives citizens the right to access records at various levels of Texas government, without having to declare a purpose in doing so. Until the law was formalized, the ability of a citizen to gain access to public records was at the discretion of the custodian of the records, except in those cases where records custodians were forbidden to allow access.

The Texas Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Texas FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Texas sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in Texas (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).


Lawsuit Year
Avinash Rangra; Anna Monclova v. Frank D. Brown 2009
Blankenship v. Brazos Higher Education Authority 1998
City of Abilene v. Shackelford 1978
City of Garland v. Dallas Morning News 1999
Dallas v. Abbott 2010
Gill v. Snow 1982
Jenkins v. State of Texas 1903
Palacios v. Corbett 1915
Tovar v. Texas 1998


Proposed changes

2011

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011


We do not currently have any legislation for Texas in 2011.


2010

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010


We have no current bill pages for Texas from 2010. This may be due to incomplete research.


2009

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

Senate Bill 280, proposed by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), sought to exempt birth dates of public employees from public disclosure.[1] The bill was referred to State Affairs. The stated reason for seeking the exemption was to prevent identity theft, but journalist Jennifer LaFleur pointed out birth dates "play a big role in journalists' ability to inform you about government agency hiring practices."[2]

State Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) proposed Senate Bill 503 to close a loophole in the law which allowed school districts to deny PIA requests for the names of individuals applying for the position of school superintendent.[3] The language stated that school districts were only required to reveal the “name or names of the finalists being considered for the position.” Use of the “name or names" clause could result in only the individual being named to the position's name being released, rather than the full list of applicants.[4]

Representative Ismael "Kino " Flores (D-Palmview) asked the Texas Legislative Council to draft legislation that would add elements to the Texas Public Information Act. His aim was to require Texas Regional Mobility Authorities to make their meeting agendas and back-up documents available online.[5] A Regional Mobility Authority is a public entity created to serve counties on transportation issues. "The work of the RMA leadership is of such vital public interest that, under my measure, all Texans would have the ability to begin viewing on the Internet, three days before a RMA meeting, the full agenda packet from which the RMA board members make their critical decisions," Flores stated in a press release.[6]

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Texas #7 in the nation with an overall percentage of 60.20%.[7]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Texas 53 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 23 out of the 50 states.[8]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Texas's law as the 18th best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "C."[9]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

While the law does not have a clearly declared defined legal intention, a citizen requesting information from a government sources has a number of rights, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. "Texas Government Code, Chapter 552, gives you the right to access government records; and an officer for public information and the officer's agent may not ask why you want them. All government information is presumed to be available to the public."[10] The commission also lists a number of other rights that citizens have in requesting government records. First, the citizen should receive prompt access to information that is not confidential or otherwise protected from public scrutiny. Certain types of information should have no exceptions, such as voting records of public officials. For all requests exceeding $40 in fees, the government agency is responsible for providing an itemized estimate of costs. The citizen, then, can revise the original request in light of the expenses. Most information can be viewed at no charge, but copies will cost administrative fees. In certain circumstances, fees can be waived or reduced if the governmental body determines that access to the information will directly lead to benefits for the general public. If a government agency makes an appeal to the Texas Attorney General to limit access to the information, the citizen is entitled to receive a copy of that request and respond to the request. Citizens are also able to file complaints about fee overcharges with the General Services Commission, and other complaints to state attorneys. See external links for Texas State Library and Archives Commission descriptions.

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

The TPIA covers nearly all documents that are in the possession of government agencies in the state that are covered by the law.

Section 552.002 says that information is public if it "is collected, assembled, or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business" by a governmental body or for a governmental body, and the governmental body owns the information or has a right of access to it.

  • A document that is labelled as being a draft is public, according to the Texas Supreme Court, in the case of City of Garland v. Dallas Morning News (2000). However, drafts of working papers involved in the preparation of proposed legislation by the state legislature are excluded (§ 552.106).
  • The form in which the information is contained is not relevant in determining whether the information is public. The statute specifically mentions a book, paper, letter, document, printout, photograph, film, tape, microfiche, microfilm, photostat, sound recording, map, and drawing and a voice, data, or video representation held in computer memory, but does not exempt other ways of storing information not included in that list.
  • The TPIA covers any information in the custody of a covered agency, regardless of how the information came to be in the custody of the agency.
  • Information held in the custody of a private contractor doing business with the government may be considered public under TPIA if:
  • It relates to a governmental body's official duties.
  • The private contractor/consultant acted as the agent of a covered governmental agency in gathering the information.
  • The governmental body for whom the private contractor is consulting is entitled to the information.
  • Personal notes and e-mail may be open under Texas' public information act, according to an attorney general's publication.[11]

Exemptions

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that public employees birth dates were exempt from public records requests, in order to prevent identity theft.[12] Many public records advocates were against the exemption as it prevents journalists or citizens from matching public employees up against databases of convicted felons or sex offenders or repeat drunk-drivers with suspended licenses.[13]

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Government agencies in Texas whose documents are public according to the TPIA include:

  • A board, commission, department, committee, institution, agency, or office that is within or is created by the executive or legislative branch of state government and that is directed by one or more elected or appointed members;
  • The county commissioners courts in the state;
  • Municipal governing bodies in the state;
  • Deliberative bodies that have rule-making or quasi-judicial power and that are classified as a department, agency, or political subdivision of a county or municipality;
  • School district boards of trustees;
  • County boards of school trustees;
  • County boards of education;
  • Governing boards of special districts;
  • Governing bodies of nonprofit corporations organized under Chapter 67, Water Code, that provide a water supply or wastewater service, or both, and is exempt from ad valorem taxation under section 11.30, Tax Code;
  • Local workforce development boards created under Section 2308.253;
  • Nonprofit corporation that are eligible to receive funds under the federal community services block grant program and that are authorized by this state to serve a geographic area of the state; and
  • The part, section, or portion of an organization, corporation, commission, committee, institution, or agency that spends or that is supported in whole or in part by public funds.

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

The legislature falls under the definition of public body and is subject to the Texas Public Information Act.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-Texas

Private agencies that receive public funds or are controlled or managed by public bodies are considered public bodies themselves and subject to the Texas Public Information Act.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

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."

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

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.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

The law says nothing about what can be done with public documents, once they are obtained by a requestor.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Texas law allows 10 days for public records requests.

Fees for records

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 costs 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 is 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").

Fee waivers

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.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

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.

See also

External links

References