Sen. Bettencourt’s bill to speed up public information requests flies out of the TX Senate!
SB 1579 creates a new expedited response procedure to incentivize faster direct responses Follows the passage of SB 1910 eliminating election record exemption at the OAG
Austin – Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) passed Senate Bill 1579 out of the Texas Senate on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, on a bipartisan vote of 20 to 10. SB 1579 creates a new expedited response procedure in order to incentivize faster direct responses to public information requests. “The PIA system
in Texas is broken as governments are sending 45K opinion requests to the OAG to delay or block release of the public information. This has to stop!” said Senator Paul Bettencourt.
Under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA), governmental bodies are generally required to request an Attorney General decision in order to withhold information unless a previous determination applies to the to the requested information. This process has been used to block or delay numerous requests.
For example, during public testimony on Senator Bettencourt’s SB 1910, which will deny County officials from using the litigation exception to delay releasing election records on public information requests, Houston native, Jim McInvgale, known as “Mattress Mack,” testified about his filed lawsuit against Harris County’s elections office related to the November 8, 2022, election fiasco in Harris County. According to Mr. McInvgale and Mr. Dolcefino, they tried six times to get public information from Harris County about the election and were denied each time. The Elections Administrator’s Office claimed that they couldn’t release any public records by claiming the litigation exception.
“Thank you, Senator Bettencourt, for fighting for the citizens of Texas. Please shine the light on all elections in Texas, so the transparent process reflects the votes of Texans!!! GOD bless Texas!” Stated Jim “Mattress Mack” McInvgale.
SB 1579 creates a new expedited response procedure where a governmental body that receives a public information request may handle the request, withhold, or redact information that falls under routine exceptions to disclosure in current law. In order to use this procedure, the responding employee must undergo PIA training through the OAG. Furthermore, if a government abuses the new procedure the OAG has the right to revoke that government’s right to use it.
“This bill attempts to make public information more public. It is the first step in a desperately needed sunshine law. It will reduce the cost of government and give Texans their fundamental right to public records,” said Wayne Dolcefino.
SB 1579 also extends training for PIA’s to 16 hours, which will be available online for free from the OAG. It also empowers the OAG to impose up to a $1,000 charge to process a request for a decision made by a governmental body that the OAG determines has been requested in bad faith. The OAG may also impose on a governmental body a $500 charge for each business day that occurs after the date the OAG issues a written determination that the governmental body made a request.
SB 1579 now moves to the Texas House where it needs to be passed before being signed into law by the Governor. “It’s the public’s information in the 1st place! Give it to the people if they ask for it!!” Concluded Senator Bettencourt.