Public Information May Get Redefined
By Tyler Pratt
Texas lawmakers met today to discuss possible changes to the Public Information Act in light of advances in data and technology, and may redefine what is public information and what isn’t.
Government information is presumed to be available to the public. Still, there are plenty of exceptions, and often retrieval fees are involved. Assistant Attorney General Amanda Crawford had a couple of examples for lawmakers of cases now in the courts.
“I believe a citizen saw council member texting during a meeting and asked for the text they were sending,” Crawford said. “And the city said no and they had no right of access and they weren’t public information under the definition.”
In another case an elected official conducted public business on a private email account. Is that public information? According to Crawford, it is.
“You cannot circumvent the Public Information Act by using your private email account” for public business, she said.
For a while now, cities, counties and the state have disagreed on what constitutes public information and what doesn’t. In 2011, State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, filed a bill to upgrade public information policies, but it never made it to a vote. The Legislature may reconsider the state’s Public Information Act during the 2013 session, which starts in January.