From the office of: State Senator José Rodríguez, District 29

April 26, 2013
Contact: Sito Negron
(512) 463-0129

Rodríguez and Márquez pass El Paso County bills dealing with Emergency Services Districts and autopsy records

Austin, April 26, 2013 — Today, the Texas House passed SB 332 and SB 457 authored by state Sen. José Rodríguez and sponsored by state Rep. Marisa Márquez. Both bills were on the El Paso County’s legislative agenda.

SB 457 eliminates a time-consuming requirement to seek an Attorney General opinion regarding open records requests for confidential autopsy information while maintaining current provisions for release of information.

Under current law, photographic and x-ray autopsy records held by a medical examiner are considered confidential and therefore not subject to mandatory disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act. But each time a request for such records is made, the County Attorney must request a decision from the Attorney General whether the autopsy photos or x-rays must be disclosed.

“This process is extremely burdensome, using an average of four hours combined attorney and support staff time to process,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “During the last 32 months, El Paso County has received over 89 separate requests for autopsy-related items with most requiring a submission to the AG for the authority to withhold autopsy photos and x-rays.”

It’s important to note that while the bill relieves an unnecessary procedure it does not limit the current exceptions to the general rule that autopsy records are not public – in the case of subpoena or in the case of a person who died while in law enforcement custody.

SB 332 gives the Commissioners Court oversight of the operations of the Emergency Services District No. 1 and No. 2 and the authority to approve or deny the ESDs’ budgets and tax rates.

During the past year, audits and media reports have highlighted significant issues at the Emergency Services District No. 2 involving expenditures, including delivery of $35,000 in merchandise to an address not associated with any volunteer fire department, and vehicles that were refurbished at ESD expense being sold to board members without board approval at below-market prices.

“Although the Commissioners Court appoints the board members of the ESDs, the Court really has no ability to oversee their operations,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “Consequently, I filed S.B. 332 to give the Commissioners Court much needed oversight and increase transparency and accountability of the emergency service districts in El Paso County.”

“This important legislation is a model for other areas of the state that deal with these particular issues,” stated Rep. Márquez. “Again, as with the County Ethics Commission, El Paso is leading the way on government transparency.”

Senator José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural, and more than 350 miles of Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez was elected in 2010, and is a member of the Criminal Justice, Veterans Affairs and Military Installations, and Government Organization committees, as well as serving as Vice Chairman of the Jurisprudence Committee

Representative Márquez was elected Nov. 4, 2008 and is serving her third term in the Texas House. She represents District 77, which includes most of Downtown El Paso, UTEP, neighborhoods near Fort Bliss in the Northeast and across the Franklins to neighborhoods around Coronado High School. Rep. Márquez is a member of the Appropriations and House Administration committees, as well as serving as Vice Chair of the Environmental Regulation Committee.