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The Public Information Act Rights and Responsibilities of a Governmental Body Local Government Seminar January 29, 2015 Presented by: Barry Gaines.

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Presentation on theme: "The Public Information Act Rights and Responsibilities of a Governmental Body Local Government Seminar January 29, 2015 Presented by: Barry Gaines."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Public Information Act Rights and Responsibilities of a Governmental Body Local Government Seminar January 29, 2015 Presented by: Barry Gaines

2 The Public Information Act Located in Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code The text of the PIA and the handbook created by the Attorney General of Texas are available on the AG’s website The PIA applies to every “governmental body” as defined in the Government Code.

3 Basic Principles Information kept by a governmental body is presumed to be public Public may have access to it or copies upon written request Information is not public if a law provides that it is confidential The body must ask the Attorney General before withholding or releasing information it believes to be confidential

4 Requests for Information Set up a system for tracking and monitoring PIA requests, responses, and letter rulings Assign a work order number which is provided to the requestor and individuals working on gathering responsive information Many requests require assistance from multiple divisions to locate responsive information Keep copies of information provided to requestors and information provided to AG

5 Communication with Requestors Ask for proof from Requestor that he is authorized to receive the information Cost estimates – Notification and acceptance of cost estimate – Deposit required before work can begin if estimate exceeds $100 Provide a time estimate if request can’t be completed within 10 days Provide notification if information is redacted pursuant to statutory authority

6 Communication with Requestors Contact Requestor to clarify and/or narrow a request Ask Requestor for authorization to redact confidential information from responsive documents Inform the Requestor that you will seek a ruling from the Attorney General Provide the Requestor with the notification and brief sent to the Attorney General

7 The Role of the Attorney General The Attorney General is responsible for maintaining uniformity in the application, operation, and interpretation of the PIA Open Government Hotline (877) OPEN TEX ( ) Cost Hotline (888) ORCOSTS ( )

8 Requesting a Ruling from the Attorney General You must identify the information, determine whether a confidentiality law or other exception applies, and ask for a ruling within 10 business days AG issued approximately 23,500 letter rulings in 2014 Request for a ruling is mandatory unless you have a previous determination Prior Attorney General letter rulings are not usually “previous determinations” that can be relied on to withhold information.

9 Previous Determinations: Two Types Type One (must meet all four criteria) – The information at issue is precisely the same as information previously submitted to the AG for a ruling. – The governmental body that received the request is the same as the one the previously requested the ruling. – AG issued a ruling that the precise information either is or is not excepted from disclosure. – There has been no change in law, facts, or circumstances since the prior ruling was issued.

10 Previous Determinations: Two Types Type Two (must meet all five criteria) – Information at issue falls within a specific category of information on which the AG previously rendered a decision. – Decision is applicable to the governmental body who received the request. – Decision concludes the specific category of information either is or is not excepted from disclosure. – Elements of law, facts and circumstances are met with respect to the previous decision’s conclusion – Decision explicitly provides that it may be relied on to withhold information without seeking a new decision.

11 Exceptions to the Release of Public Information Government Code Section motor vehicle records Government Code Section law enforcement Government Code Section (Notice to the 3 rd party under ) Confidential Information Attorney/Client Privileged Information Information Relating to Litigation Agency Memoranda (Deliberative Process) Other Exceptions to Release of Information

12 Public Information Categories of Public Information (not excepted unless confidential) – Salary, title, and dates of employment – Policy statement adopted or issued by agency – Settlement agreement to which a GB is a party Investment Information Information made public by a statute – Minutes and Recordings of Open Meetings

13 Penalty for Failing to Provide Public Information An officer for Public Information or his agent commits an offense that constitutes official misconduct by failing or refusing to give access or permit copying of public information as provided by the PIA Up to $1000 fine and/or up to 6 months in jail

14 Penalties for Disclosing Confidential Information Government Code (PIA) A person commits an offense that constitutes official misconduct by distributing information considered confidential under the PIA Up to $1000 fine and/or up to 6 months in jail Be aware of particular statutes that the GB you represent must comply with because they often provide penalties as well.


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