Two new Texas transparency laws passed in the spring legislative session took effect Sept. 1, addressing public records problems that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Bill 930 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, ensures that governmental entities must release information on COVID-19 and other communicable disease outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The names and locations of the facilities must be made available to the public. Individual patient information will be protected.
Senate Bill 1225 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, clarifies the “catastrophe notice” provision of the Texas Public Information Act to prevent abuse of the law during a time of emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments filed multiple catastrophe notices with the Texas attorney general, claiming they didn’t have to respond to open records requests for weeks on end. The law was clarified to note that only one seven-day pause in replying to TPIA requests, and possibly one seven-day extension, are allowed per emergency under the catastrophe notice provision.
Meanwhile, parts of the Texas Open Meetings Act that Gov. Greg Abbott temporarily suspended at the start of the pandemic were back in place as of Sept. 1. Abbott announced earlier this summer that he was lifting the TOMA suspensions. Click here to see a list of the suspensions.