As journalists, it is our job to dig as deep as possible for information on stories. Whether it is digging through mounds of court records, staking out our sources or using the Internet for computer-assisted reporting, we are constantly using the tools we have to bring our readers newsworthy, thoroughly researched articles. One major tool we as reports have is the power of public records request.
Actually, it is not a tool just for reporters. The general public can file public records requests just like journalists, hence the name PUBLIC records request. However, the general public does not always have the time, means or know-how to utilize these tools. That’s why we as journalists still have jobs. We will file them for you.
Because I’ve worked on many stories that have entailed me filing these requests, including one I’m working on right now, I thought I would take the time to share some background information with you on public records requests and why they are important:
What is the Public Information Act? The Public Information Act, formerly known as the Open Records Act, is located at chapter 552 of the Government Code. The Act provides a mechanism for citizens to inspect or copy government records. It also provides for instances in which governmental bodies wish to, or are required by law to, withhold government records from the public.
What types of records are subject to the Public Information Act? Any information collected, assembled, or maintained by or for a governmental body is subject to the Public Information Act. The format (paper, electronic, microfilm, etc.) of the record does not affect its status as a public record.
What is a "governmental body"? For purposes of the Public Information Act, the term "governmental body" encompasses all Texas public entities at the state and local levels. It does not include the judiciary. Private entities may be considered governmental bodies if they are supported in whole or in part by public funds or they expend public funds. The Public Information Act does not apply, however, to private persons or businesses simply because they provide goods or services under a contract with a governmental body.
Here are some recent articles on journalists struggle with obtaining these records: https://www.oag.state.tx.us/open/og_faqs.shtml http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/07/galveston-housing-authoritys-handling-of-public-records/1311273403.column http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/07/judge-rules-lubbock-health-care-audit-a-public/1311097800.column http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2011/03/public-pension-details-in-texas-kept-confidential/1301601577.column
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