Every open records request has legal implications

Freedom of information is a foundational tenet of American democracy. The argument goes that transparency about government operations is critical for voters to exercise their electoral rights and responsibilities. At the federal level, the Freedom of Information Act requires agencies to reveal information upon request unless doing so might be detrimental to national interests.

At the state level, Texas has the Public Information Act. It spells out:

  • What kinds of records are subject to disclosure.
  • Deadlines for release of information.
  • Rules controlling public notice about requests received and how they’ve been handled.
  • What requests require an opinion on response from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Legal implications

There can be serious legal implications with any decision made about properly submitted requests. Once filed, the proper government body faces a deadline for deciding what to do. There is the possibility of criminal penalties if the body releases information that should have remained confidential by law. At the same time, refusing a request could also result in criminal penalty if the information is declared open to the public. So, there’s no room for impulsive decisions.

What’s subject to disclosure?

Any information collected and maintained in connection with a law or ordinance is deemed public information by the Texas law. As is any information related to the conducting of any official business.

What bodies are covered?

The broad term used to identify who the law applies to is “any governmental body.” The actual entities that covers, however, include but are not limited to:

  • Bodies of city government.
  • School district boards of trustees.
  • Any board or commission directed by elected or government appointed members.
  • Special district government boards.
  • Any organization receiving or spending public funds.

Considering that application of the Public Information Act can vary depending on the situation and that the stakes can include criminal penalty for violations, it’s clearly important to seek input from skilled legal professionals.