The Attorney General’s office has released an updated handbook on the Texas Public Information Act, including guidance on changes made by the 87th Texas Legislature. While the handbook is a helpful resource, the TPIA is a complex statutory scheme that can be difficult for the general public (and governmental bodies) to understand. Experienced legal counsel can help you obtain public information—or prevent confidential information from being released to the public.
By statute, the Texas Attorney General is responsible for “maintain[ing] uniformity in the application, operation and interpretation” of the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA). Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.011. Every two years, following the legislative session, the Texas Attorney General’s office releases an updated handbook providing guidance on the Texas Public Information Act. The 2022 handbook can be downloaded for free here.
The 87th Texas Legislature approved some notable changes to the TPIA, which took effect in 2021:
- Reforming catastrophe notices—Governmental bodies can briefly suspend TPIA requirements during a “catastrophe.” The 87th Legislature added language to the TPIA clarifying that there is no “catastrophe” when staff are working remotely and can access information electronically, even if the physical office is closed. The legislature also limited the use of catastrophe notices, providing that a governmental body can file only one catastrophe notice (plus one extension) per catastrophe—that’s 14 days total per catastrophe. Upon conclusion of any suspension period, the governmental body must immediately resume compliance with all requirements of the TPIA. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.2325.
- Responding to requests when physical office closed—In addition to reforming the catastrophe notices provision, the 87th Legislature added a new provision to the TPIA that requires a governmental body to make “a good faith effort” to continue responding to open record requests when its physical offices are closed but staff are working remotely (unless there is a catastrophe notice in effect). Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.2211.
- Amendments to two TPIA exceptions
- The 87th Texas Legislature passed five bills amending section 552.117 of the TPIA, which excepts certain addresses, phone numbers, SSNs, and personal family information from public disclosure. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.117.
- The 87th Texas Legislature also passed four bills amending section 552.1175 of the TPIA, which excepts certain personal identifying information of peace officers and other officials performing sensitive governmental functions from public disclosure. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.1175.
- Two new exceptions added
- The 87th Legislature added section 552.1315 to the TPIA, which makes confidential information that identifies child victims of abuse or sexual assault. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.1315.
- The 87th Legislature also added section 552.1331 to the TPIA, which makes confidential (i) information maintained by a government-operated utility that is collected as part of an advanced metering system for usage, services, and billing, and (ii) information that reveals whether an account is delinquent or eligible for disconnection or reveals services have been discontinued by the government-operated utility. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.1331.
While the handbook is a helpful resource, the TPIA is a complex statutory scheme that can be difficult for the general public (and governmental bodies) to understand. In 2021 alone, the Open Records Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office issued a record-breaking 36,906 letter rulings interpreting the TPIA.
Experienced legal counsel can help you obtain public information—or prevent confidential information from being released to the public.