Legislation by Rep. Todd Hunter would strengthen Texas Public Information Act

AUSTIN – Citizens requesting government records would have improved access to public information stored in private electronic accounts under newly filed legislation by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi.

House Bill 1764 amends the Texas Public Information Act to specify that a government officer or employee in possession of public records must hand that information over to the governmental body upon request.

The Texas Legislature approved a measure in 2013 clarifying that public business, even if it’s conducted on private electronic devices or in private email accounts, is public record. That placed into law what the Texas Attorney General’s Office had been ruling for several years.

Since the law took effect, some governmental bodies have established custodianship policies for emails and other records pertaining to public business that are held in private accounts to help provide that information to citizen requesters. Other governments, however, have maintained that because they do not possess the information they cannot obtain it. Hunter’s proposal would close that custodianship loophole.

“The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas applauds this effort to improve access to public records. Regardless of where government information is stored, citizens must be able to view it,” said Laura Prather, a First Amendment attorney and legislative committee co-chair for the FOI Foundation of Texas.

“Representative Hunter has been a longtime advocate for open government, and this legislation again demonstrates his commitment to the people’s right to know,” Prather said.

Hunter, chairman of the House Calendars Committee, has pressed for passage of numerous public access bills during his tenure at the Texas Capitol. The FOI Foundation presented Hunter with its “Lawmaker of the Year” award in 2013.

“Open government and access to public information are important objectives for this legislative session. It is important for the governmental process to have laws that help public access to information that promotes openness of the state government,” Hunter said.