Public Information Act – What You Need To Know
Under Texas Government Code Chapter 552, the public is entitled to request information from Governmental entities and that Governmental Body is required to produce the information requested in a timely manner. The general term for this is called an Open Records Request and it is submitted to the body of Government that you are requesting the information from.
Texas Government Code Chapter 552.003 defines a Governmental Body as any branch of Government from the State Legislature and its committee’s/departments, all the way down to municipal governments, and even non-profits that receive Federal Block Grant money. This chapter is a branch off of Texas Government Code Chapter 551, the Texas Open Meetings Act. The purpose of the Public Information Act is to keep Texas Governments transparent and easily accessible to the public.
When Can I Request Information and What Can I request?
Under Texas Government Code Chapter 552.021 the public can request information at a minimum during the normal business hours of the Governmental Body they are requesting from. Most Governmental Bodies have office hours Monday-Friday from 8:00am-5:00pm, though you should check with your local Body to be sure. That information is generally accessible on their website or by calling their main number.
“Sec. 552.002. DEFINITION OF PUBLIC INFORMATION; MEDIA CONTAINING PUBLIC INFORMATION. (a) In this chapter, “public information” means information that is written, produced, collected, assembled, or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business:
(1) by a governmental body;
(2) for a governmental body and the governmental body:
(A) owns the information;
(B) has a right of access to the information; or
(C) spends or contributes public money for the purpose of writing, producing, collecting, assembling, or maintaining the information; or
(3) by an individual officer or employee of a governmental body in the officer’s or employee’s official capacity and the information pertains to official business of the governmental body.
(a-1) Information is in connection with the transaction of official business if the information is created by, transmitted to, received by, or maintained by an officer or employee of the governmental body in the officer’s or employee’s official capacity, or a person or entity performing official business or a governmental function on behalf of a governmental body, and pertains to official business of the governmental body.
(a-2) The definition of “public information” provided by Subsection (a) applies to and includes any electronic communication created, transmitted, received, or maintained on any device if the communication is in connection with the transaction of official business.
(b) The media on which public information is recorded include:
(3) a magnetic, optical, solid state, or other device that can store an electronic signal;
(5) Mylar; and
(6) any physical material on which information may be recorded, including linen, silk, and vellum.
(c) The general forms in which the media containing public information exist include a book, paper, letter, document, e-mail, Internet posting, text message, instant message, other electronic communication, printout, photograph, film, tape, microfiche, microfilm, photostat, sound recording, map, and drawing and a voice, data, or video representation held in computer memory.
(d) “Protected health information” as defined by Section 181.006, Health and Safety Code, is not public information and is not subject to disclosure under this chapter.” – Text Taken from https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/GV/htm/GV.552.htm
The Governmental Body from which you are requesting information from is prohibited from asking you why you are seeking the information. They are required to fulfill the request promptly – sometimes it can take two or three business days, and other times it can take just a few minutes. It depends on how complex the request is.
If you have questions about the Public Information Act or have concerns, Guest and Gray is here to help.