New law affecting Texas court records

By Michael Reagor, Government Information Analyst

On Monday, May 30, 2011 the Governor signed into law House Bill 1559.  This law has a direct impact on records management in the state of Texas, so we wanted to take a moment to discuss the new law and how it might affect your government.  We’ve already received some questions about the changes and we will be addressing them below, but if you have additional questions please let us know by contacting your Government Information Analyst.

 

Q: What does the new law say?

A: You can read the full text of the law here.  The basic points are that the State Library must create rules for the retention of court records prior to 1951 and that local governments may not destroy their records except under those rules.

 

Q: So what does that mean exactly?

A: We can’t speak to the intent of the law, but fortunately the author of the bill can.  You can read the legislative intent online here, and an article from the bill’s author here.

 

Q: So it says you have to create retention rules, when are you going to start?

A: Fortunately enough we are already in the process of updating our retention rules.  You can follow the progress of our retention schedule revisions here on the blog, or subscribe to receive updates by email.  We hope to receive approval on the schedules dealing with the retention of court records (schedules CC, DC, and LC) at our next Commission meeting on July 1.  If we receive approval, the new rules should take effect by the end of the summer.

 

Q: What records series are covered?

A: The bill covers all court records in Texas, but it does not direct the State Library to make all records permanent.  We have identified case papers and trial dockets from before 1951 as meriting automatic permanent retention, but other records like correspondence and purchasing records will continue to have shorter retention periods and will only require permanent retention if they demonstrate long term historic value.

 

Q: Is there any kind of grace period so that I can destroy my old records before the law goes into effect?

A: No.  Because the bill was approved by more than two thirds of each house of the Legislature it went into effect immediately upon the signature of the Governor.