Application Of The Public Information Act
What is the Texas Public Information Act (the Act)?
The Texas Public Information Act (the "Public Information Act") was adopted in 1973 by the reform-minded Sixty-third Legislature. The Sharpstown scandal, which occurred in 1969 and came to light in 1971, provided the motivation for several enactments opening up government to the people. The Public Information Act is now codified in the Texas Government Code at Chapter 552. See the following web site for the text of the Act in its' entirety: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/GV/htm/GV.552.htm
What types of records generally fall under the Act?
Public records include any information that is collected, assembled, or maintained ... by or for the university. The act applies to records regardless of their format. It includes information that is maintained in paper, tape, microfilm, video, electronic data held in computer memory, as well as other mediums specified under law.
Are records that are kept or owned by a consultant to the university subject to the Act?
The fact that a private entity may own or retain a record does not prevent the record from being subject to release under the Public Information Act. For example, if a consultant maintains or holds records for the university, the documents are still considered public information if the university owns the information or has a right of access to it.
Does university staff have a special right of access to university records?
An employee whose job requires or permits access to certain public records would have a special right of access to those records. The transfer of information to university staff is not considered a release to the public and would not constitute selective disclosure.
Do outside governmental agencies have a special right of access to university records?
Outside governmental agencies whose function under state or federal law requires access to certain records generally have a right of access to such records. The transfer of information to such outside governmental agencies is not considered a release to the public and would not constitute selective disclosure. For example, upon request, the university must release certain salary and other personnel information to the Texas Attorney General's Office to enable collection of court-ordered child support payments.
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What Constitutes An Open Records Request
To what university officer must an Open Records Request be directed?
Except in the case of faxed and email requests, the Public Information Act does not require that the public direct its open records requests to any specific university employee or officer. Generally, the deadlines involved in handling an open records requests are not put on hold merely because the wrong university staff member received the request. For this reason, it is important that the university clearly inform all of its employees what to do if they receive a request for records. The University of Texas System Systemwide Policy 139 (http://www.utsystem.edu/board-of-regents/policy-library/policies/uts139-compliance-texas-public-information-act) sets forth procedures The University of Texas System follows for complying with the Texas Public Information Act. The University of Texas System includes The University of Texas System Administration and the component institutions (http://www.utsystem.edu/openrecords). A mailed or hand-delivered Open Records Request should be immediately forwarded to our Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and Custodian of Records for handling. Email and facsimile requests do not trigger the Act unless sent directly by the requestor to the designated email address or facsimile line.
For U.S. mail delivery:
Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
The University of Texas at Austin
PO Box 8179
Austin, Texas 78713-8179
Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Main Bldg., Suite 102
For fax delivery: 512-471-7742
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Who can I contact at the university if I have general questions about the Act?
Mr. Bob Davis
Open Records Coordinator
Office of the Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
What is the university’s duty to respond to emailed or faxed requests for copies of records?
The university has a duty to respond to any written requests for open records, including those that are made through email or by fax. However, state law provides that the university can designate a person that is authorized to receive email or faxed requests for open records. If the university makes such a designation, the Open Records Act is only activated if the request is directed to the assigned individual. If the university has not made such a designation, the email or faxed request can be directed to any university official or staff member. Pursuant to Section 552.301(c), Government Code, the Custodian of Records has been designated to receive all electronic mail requests for public information. The university is not responsible for responding to electronic mail and fax requests sent to any electronic mail address other than the email address for the Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and Custodian of Records cited above.
Must a university respond to verbal requests for copies of records?
If the university provides copies of records upon verbal request, the university must be consistent in its treatment of all requestors. In other words, if the university does not require a written request from certain individuals, it should not insist on a written request from others. Nonetheless, state law allows the university to require that all requests for copies of records be made in writing. In fact, the Public Information Act is only activated by a written request for documents.
What should an Open Records Request include?
Requests for records under the Public Information Act must be in writing. Including the following information in your request will help ensure that you receive the information you want:
- your name and mailing address (so we can send you a response)
- your phone number (so we can contact you if we have questions about how to respond to your request)
- a list or description of the specific information you are interested in, including time periods
Try to be as specific as possible about the information you are seeking. For a sample of an Open Records Request, please refer to the following web site: http://www.utsystem.edu/openrecords
How much does it cost to obtain copies of university records?
Charges for copies of public information are set by the General Services Commission (GSC). In general, if the number of copies in your request is less than 50 pages, the charge will be $0.10 per page plus the cost of postage (or other delivery method, at your request). If the number of copies is more than 50 pages, the charge will be $0.10 per page plus personnel costs necessary to compile the documents, in addition to the postage. If the charge for fulfilling your requests exceeds $40.00, we will provide you with an itemized written estimate of the charges and indicate if a less costly alternative is available. You must respond in writing within 10 days after the estimate is sent that you will accept the costs, or that you desire any stated alternative, or your request will be considered withdrawn. If the estimated charge is more than $100.00, the university will generally require a prepaid deposit or bond before providing the information. Also, if you have an unpaid balance of more than $100.00 relating to previous requests, a prepaid deposit or bond will be required.
What other resources are available via the Web about the Act?
Office of the Attorney General:
The University of Texas System Office of General Counsel:
Information for 3rd parties about protecting confidential and proprietary information:
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Administration Of Open Records Requests
How much time does the university generally have to comply with an Open Records Request?
The university must "promptly" produce the public information. There is often a misconception that the Act requires copies of public information be produced within ten (10) days upon receipt of the written request. The act states that all requests must be handled with good faith and must be accomplished within a reasonable time period. What is considered reasonable and prompt will vary depending on the number of documents sought by the requestor. In certain circumstances, the records can be produced in less than ten days. However, requests for a substantial number of documents may take several weeks to produce. If it will take the university longer than ten business days to produce the records, the university must certify that fact in writing to the requestor. In the notice, the university must indicate a set date and hour within a reasonable time that the information will be made available for inspection or duplication.
When is the university under a timing deadline to take a particular action when handling an Open Records Request?
The amount of time the university has to produce copies of records will vary depending on the amount of information requested. However, there are six situations that present a timing deadline for the university to take a particular action when handling an open records request.
- Notice to requestor that the university needs additional time to produce records: If the university is unable to produce a requested record within ten business days for inspection or for duplication, the university must certify that fact in writing to the requestor and set a date and hour within a reasonable time that the information will be available for inspection or for duplication.
- Notice to requestor that the university needs additional time to produce records that are in active use or in storage: If the university needs additional time to produce a record because it is in active use or because it is in storage, the university must notify the requestor of this fact. This notice must be given within ten business days of the university's receipt of the request for the documents. The notice must set a date and hour within a reasonable time that the information will be available for inspection or duplication.
- Notice to requestor of programming or manipulation costs:
- a statement that the information is/is not available in the requested form;
- a description of the form in which the information is available;
- a description of any contract or services that would be required to provide the information in the requested form;
- a statement of the estimated cost of providing the information in the requested form as determined in accordance with the rules established by the General Services Commission under §552.262; and
- a statement of the anticipated time required for us to provide the information in the requested form. Generally, this notice must be provided to the requestor within 20 days of the university's receipt of the request.
- Request by the university for an Open Record Ruling from the Attorney General: If the university plans to withhold certain documents or information, it usually must request an Attorney General's ruling on the ability to withhold such information. The written request for an AG ruling must be made within ten business days of the university's receipt of the request for the documents. However, the ten-day deadline is tolled during the time that the university and the requestor are actively clarifying the scope of information requested.
- Notice to requestor that the university sought an Attorney General Open Record Ruling: The university must give written notice to the requestor if the university seeks an AG open record ruling on the request. This notice must be given within ten business days of the university's receipt of the request for the documents.
- Notice to Person or entity with proprietary interest in information of Attorney General Open Record Ruling Request: If an open records request may result in the release of proprietary information, the university must make a good faith attempt to notify the person or entity that had such an interest of the request. The university must send the written notice within 10 business days of the date the original request was received. This notice must include a copy of the request for information and a statement that the person is entitled to submit a letter, brief, or memorandum to the AG in support of withholding the information. The notice must inform the person that the briefing must state each reason the person has as to why the information should be withheld and the legal rationale supporting such an assertion. Any briefing by a person with proprietary interest must be provided within 10 business days from the date the written notice from the university is received.
When is the university required to ask for an Open Records Ruling from the Attorney General?
Some of the information maintained by The University of Texas System may contain information that is not public, such as the following:
- student information/records;
- medical information/records;
- driver's license and motor vehicle information;
- attorney-client communications;
- attorney work product;
- documents made confidential by statute;
- documents claimed to be proprietary by a third party (trade secret information).
If you want to review or get copies of the non-public information listed above, it will be necessary for The university of Texas System to request an Attorney General's opinion about this information. This non-public information will not be available for review until after the Attorney General makes a decision about whether the information is public or not public. The Attorney General's office has about 12 weeks to make a decision on whether the information is public or not public. If part of the information you requested is considered public information, then you will be able to review or get copies of the public information, even if a request for an Attorney General's open records opinion is necessary regarding the non-public information. If public information and non-public information are both included in a single document, the document will be provided to you. However, the information believed to be non-public or exempt will be redacted (marked out) while the request for an Attorney General's opinion is pending.
What procedures must be followed if a governmental body wishes to withhold information?
Within 10 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 15 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.
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