Local officials urge lawmakers to change Texas Public Information Act

Large commercial data requests are slowing down city secretaries and county clerks, who need to be exempt from some Texas Public Information Act requests, those officials told state lawmakers Wednesday.

Comal County Clerk Joy Streater told the House Government Efficiency and Reform Committee that the Public Information Act, which dates to the early 1970s, was intended to let taxpayers know how their money is being spent and not for large businesses obtaining public information to profit from it. She said information maintained by county clerks, which includes divorce decrees and probate records, should be exempt from the act.

“I feel that’s the right thing to do,” she said. “I don’t know how to do that, so I need your help.”

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, didn’t go so far as to agree with that idea, but he made some suggestions he said would make the law more efficient and told Streater her office “should be compensated for the work you are doing.”

Southlake City Secretary Lori Payne said she would like to be able to simply refer some information requesters to the city website rather than answering individual requests.

Amanda Crawford, chief of the Open Records Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, noted that under current law requesters can be referred to website information if they are agreeable to receive the information that way. Crawford also noted that the law requires all requesters to be treated uniformly, whether they are commercial interests or individuals, and that government officials cannot ask why information is being sought.