From the Office of State Senator John Carona

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 26, 1999
CONTACT: John Krueger, 512/463-0116

SENATOR CARONA FILES PUBLIC INFORMATION BILLS

(AUSTIN)--State Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) today filed three bills reinforcing the importance of the Texas Open Records Act. Senator Carona served on the Senate Interim Committee on Public Information which held eight public hearings throughout the state last year. "Texans have continuously demonstrated common sense solutions to challenges we face, and these bills are the result of suggestions raised at our hearings," Senator Carona stated.

SB 277 will reduce the time in which the attorney general must render a decision on whether a public information request falls within the exceptions under the law. Under current law, the attorney general has 60 working days to render a requested opinion, with may be extended an additional 20 working days. "While it is important that governmental bodies be allowed to check with the attorney general's office for legitimate questions on whether or not certain information legally can be released, the interim committee heard many witnesses testify that this was often used as a delaying tactic to avoid release of timely information," Senator Carona remarked. SB 277 will reduce the decision time to 20 working days, with an additional 10-day additional upon notification by the attorney general.

The second piece of legislation, SB 278, would grant the Texas General Services Commission (GSC) authority to audit the procedures by which a governmental body processes public information requests. "Although most cities, counties, and other governmental bodies do an excellent job of fulfilling their responsibilities under the Open Records Act, some staffs may have little exposure to this important law," Senator Carona explained. "This bill would simply remind all governmental bodies of their requirements for responding to public information requests."

A third bill, SB 279, requires governmental entities to provide one copy of requested public information free of charge upon request by another governmental body. "I was shocked to hear testimony about examples where a governmental body would charge fees to provide public information to another governmental body. "Public tax dollars are already being spent for governmental to accumulate, analyze, and store public information; taxpayers should not be forced to pay again when another governmental body requests a copy of that information," Senator Carona said.

He concluded, "The Texas Open Records Act is one of the most fundamental checks on government for our citizens, and I want to make sure we protect and clarify that right."

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