Bill would limit Public Information Act use to Texans

By Madlin Mekelburg
Houston Chronicle
Originally published Feb. 5, 2015

A bill filed Wednesday seeks to limit the scope of the Texas Public Information Act to Texas residents.

The legislation, filed by Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, would allow members of a governmental body to decide if they want to deny or comply with open records requests filed by non-Texas residents. Current law stipulates public information in Texas must be made available to all members of the public, without regard to residency.

“The purpose of Texas government is to serve Texans, not folks from other places,” Schofield said. “It costs money and takes time every time we have a request.”

Governmental bodies who receive records request would have the option to demand residency information from the requester. If the individual failed to respond to the agency’s request within 10 business days, their request would be treated as though submitted by a non-Texas resident.

“The purpose of this is not to let an agency, as a matter of course, buy more time,” Schofield said. “The onus is on the agency.”

Schofield’s bill does not currently include any safeguard for governmental bodies to determine if a requester is stretching the truth about his residency, but he said measures could be put into place if it becomes problematic.

Although the bill, HB 1118, would allow the governmental body who receives a request from an out-of-state resident to determine whether to fulfill it, Schofield said he would personally be more strict.

“If it were up to me, we would comply with all legal requests from Texas residents and none from everybody else,” Schofield said. “Texas government belongs to Texans…This is a bill to make sure Texans, whose government it is, are the focal points of our efforts.”

Kelley Shannon, Executive Director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said she was concerned by the legislation.

“It is certainly problematic and it would bring a major negative change to the Texas Public Information Act,” Shannon said. “The problem is, there are many people in the country that are interested in what is going on in Texas besides Texas residents.”

Schofield’s legislation is not the first proposed change to government transparency this session. Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, filed legislation that would require complaints made against Houston police officers to be made public.

Also, Gov. Greg Abbott recently altered a controversial policy held by former Gov. Rick Perry of clearing his inbox every seven days. Abbott has opted to expand the period to 30 days.