Open Records Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Public Information Act?
The Public Information Act, formerly known as the Open Records Act, is located at chapter 552 of the Government Code. The Act provides a mechanism for citizens to inspect or copy government records. It also provides for instances in which governmental bodies wish to, or are required by law to, withhold government records from the public.
What types of records are subject to the Public Information Act?
Any information collected, assembled, or maintained by or for a governmental body is subject to the Public Information Act. The format (paper, electronic, microfilm, etc.) of the record does not affect its status as a public record.
What is a "governmental body"?
For purposes of the Public Information Act, a governmental body includes all governmental entities with the exception of the judiciary. In addition, some non-governmental entities that receive public funds are considered governmental bodies.
How do I make a public information request?
The request must be in writing and must be addressed to the governmental body. While the request does not need to be addressed to any particular person, it is a good practice to clearly label your correspondence as a "Public Information Request" or "Open Records Request." Requests sent via fax or email must be addressed to the public information officer or to the person designated by that officer to receive such requests.
What should I say in my public information request?
No "magic language" is required to trigger the Public Information Act. You should, however, make the request as clear and as specific as possible. This will enable the governmental body to identify exactly what information you are requesting.
How long does the governmental body have to respond to my request for information?/ Are governmental bodies required to fulfill my request within ten days?
The Act provides that a governmental body must respond "promptly" to a request for information. There is no specified timeframe in which a governmental body must produce the responsive documents requested. However, if a governmental body is unable to produce the requested information within ten business days, the officer for public information must send the requestor correspondence notifying that he is unable to do so and he must set a date and time when the records will be available (Gov't Code 552.221).
There will be a fee for my responsive documents. When will I receive my documents?
A government body is considered to have received a request on the date it receives the deposit (i.e. payment) or bond (Gov't Code 552.263(e)) [for the request]. This means, the governmental body will begin gathering, researching, programming, collecting and/or redacting information related to your request, once payment has been received.
May a governmental body ask me why I want the records?
No, a governmental body is forbidden from inquiring about the purpose for which the records will be used. However, if a request is unclear or very broad, the governmental body may ask the requestor to more clearly identify or narrow his or her request. Additionally, a governmental body may require additional identifying information to determine that the requestor is eligible to receive certain types of information.
When may a governmental body refuse to release the information I request?
If the information you request falls within one of the exceptions to disclosure found in the Public Information Act, the governmental body may refuse to release the information while it seeks an open records decision from the Attorney General. Unless the governmental body has a previous determination from a court or the Attorney General regarding the precise information requested, a governmental body cannot determine on its own to withhold information.
What procedures must be followed if a governmental body wishes to withhold information?
- Within ten business days of receiving a written request, the governmental body must:
- write the Attorney General, asking for a decision and state which exceptions apply to the requested information;
- provide the requestor with a written statement that the governmental body wishes to withhold the information and that it has asked the Attorney General for a decision;
- provide the requestor with a copy of the governmental body's correspondence to the Attorney General; and
- make a good faith attempt to notify, in the form prescribed by the Attorney General, any affected third parties of the request.
Within fifteen business days of receiving your request, the governmental body must:
- write the Attorney General and explain how the claimed exceptions apply;
- provide a copy of your written request to the Attorney General;
- provide a signed statement to the Attorney General stating the date the request was received by the governmental body or provide evidence sufficient to establish the date the request was received; and
- provide copies of the documents requested or a representative sample of the documents to the Attorney General and the documents must be labeled to show which exceptions apply to which parts of the documents.
Does the Texas Attorney General have a public information request form that can be used by governmental bodies?
Yes. Texas Public Information Act Information Request Form