e-Records 2017: “The Public Information Act and Updates from the 85th Legislative Session”

This is the second post of a multi-part recap of the 2017 e-Records Conference. Presentation materials from the conference are available on the e-Records 2017 website.

  1. Information Governance: Take Control and Succeed
  2. The Public Information Act and Updates from the 85th Legislative Session

After the Opening Remarks, Justin Gordon from the Office of the Attorney General addressed the 2017 attendees. In addition to summarizing recent laws affecting public information requests, the Open Records Division Chief gave an overview of the Public Information Act that satisfies the statutory training requirements at no additional cost.* That’s 2 (possibly 3) different CE credits available at one conference. What a bargain!

Mr. Gordon included a few surprising tidbits for our audience.

Justin Gordon and chart of TPIA requests.

Mr. Gordon describes the growth of requests under the Public Information Act.

For instance, the deadline to respond to an open records request isn’t 10 days; it’s “promptly” or “as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.” Ten (10) days is the first submission deadline to request an Attorney General decision about withholding. That’s not news to people who have previously attended the annual Open Government Conference but it’s something to keep in mind when a request shows up in your office.

He also reported that the costs for e-filing with the Open Records Division are coming down. That’s good news if you’re ever in danger of missing a 10 or 15 day submission deadline. You can continue to submit via first class US mail, common or contract carrier, interagency mail, or hand deliver them during normal business hours.

I was surprised to learn the Act does not require responding to a requestor if you have no responsive information. But, Mr. Gordon emphasized, you should respond if only to save yourself from answering the requestor’s complaint to the OAG.

The 85th Legislature enacted several bills affecting open records in Texas. Mr. Gordon summarized a few that were especially interesting to our attendees:

  • SB 79 – State agencies can now refer the public to a webpage containing information responsive to a public information request. Before September 1, only local governments had the privilege to do so.
  • HB 3107 – This bill contains many substantive procedural changes. The change with perhaps the most reach is the ability to treat all requests received from an individual within a single calendar day as a single request for the purposes of calculating costs.
  • SB 533 – State agencies must redact certain information in posted contracts.
  • HB 8, HB 1861, SB 532 – Collectively, these bills expand the confidentiality of computer security information.

Without a doubt, the hot button topic of the hour concerned withholding birthdays. Government bodies must ask for an OAG decision to withhold dates of birth each and every time they are requested unless you have a previous determination. How do you receive a previous determination for birthdays? Ask the OAG for one.

* Please direct questions about obtaining credit for Public Information Act Training to the Open Records Division.

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