Explainer: the Texas Public Information Act

Residents of your town, city or county will have a variety of reasons to ask for information from governmental bodies. Whatever their reasons, the Texas Public Information Act “gives the public the right to request access to government information,” writes Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, in his handbook on the Act.

Requests must be for existent info

Paxton says that the Act is very simply triggered whenever someone gives a written request for info to a governmental body. However, the AG does note that the requests are limited to requests for records or information already in existence, which means the governmental body is not required to do the following: create new information, do legal research or answer questions.

The person making the request can ask to see the available information or to get copies of the information. If they ask for copies, the governmental body can charge for the copies. If they’re simply asking to see the information, the body cannot usually charge for that access – except under certain limited circumstances. (Note: we will explain exceptions in a future post to our Texas Municipal Law Blog.)

Exceptions – and a warning

While the state’s Public Information Act makes most government information available to the public, there are some exceptions here as well. We’ll delve into the exceptions in a coming post to our blog, but there is a warning that accompanies the possibility of exceptions to the Act.

Paxton writes that if a governmental body wants to withhold requested information, it must refer the matter to his office within 10 business days of receiving the records request. The AG’s office will then make a ruling on whether an exception applies. If an exception applies, the information does not need to be released.

However, if there’s no applicable exception, the Act requires the person making the request, or the Attorney General, “to file a civil lawsuit to compel the governmental body to release the information.”

We’ll have more on the Texas Public Information Act in an upcoming post. Please check back.