In 1973, the legislature passed the Texas Public Information Act after state officials were involved in a stock fraud scandal. The Act promotes transparency by requiring all governmental bodies to release information to the public upon request.
A variety of bodies are required to release information upon receiving a written request, including boards, commissions and committees created by the executive or legislative branches. In addition, a body that receives or spends public funds or private organizations that maintain records for government bodies is also included under the act.
What type of information can be released?
Any public information that the body assembles, collects, produces or maintains during public business transactions can be requested. Information that can be requested extends beyond meeting notes and administrative documents and can include emails, text messages and social media posts.
However, there are exceptions to the Act and private information cannot be released. Private information can be a variety of things such as pending litigation, trade secrets and personnel records.
How can I comply with the Act?
Here are some of your responsibilities under the Texas Public Information Act as a public official:
- Treat all requestors of public information equally
- Provide a statement of estimated charges in advance
- Notify the requestor within 10 business days if you will not be releasing the information and provide an estimated date of when the information will be available
- Provide the information promptly
- Complete the required open records training
- Schedule reasonable times for requestors to inspect and copy the information
Ignorance is no excuse for failure to comply and reviewing the Act annually can be a good idea to ensure you are well-versed on your responsibilities.