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Relating to the public information law.
No significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated.
SB 944 would amend several provisions of the Public Information Act (PIA), including: (1) allowing governmental bodies to obtain public information stored on their employees' private devices; (2) creating a new exception to disclosure for sensitive healthcare information; (3) allowing governmental bodies to designate a single email address and a single mailing address to receive PIA requests; and (4) directing the Office of the Attorney General to promulgate a PIA request form that governmental bodies and requestors may use.
An exception would be provided for information obtained by a governmental body that was provided by an out-of-state health care provider in connection with a quality management, peer review, or best practices program that the out-of-state health care provider pays for is confidential.
Additionally, this bill would add that exceptions to disclosure do not apply to information, records, or notations if: (1) a person who is a subject of the information, other than a peace officer, is deceased or incapacitated, or (2) each person who is a subject of the information consents to the release of the information. Also, a letter, memorandum, or document regarding a police officer's alleged misconduct in the officer's personnel file would not be excepted from public disclosure under state public information law if: (1) a person who is a subject of the letter, memorandum, or document, other than a police officer, is deceased or incapacitated; or (2) each person who is a subject of the letter, memorandum, or document consents to its release.
Texas Action supports SB 944 because it promotes limited government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility. While we were originally neutral on the bill as filed, we support the bill as amended to include provisions relating to disclosure of information when a person who is a subject of the information is deceased or incapacitated.
This amendment to SB 944 (the Moody amendment) addresses an exception to public disclosure under the Public Information Act that has created unintended consequences when the suspect of an investigation dies or is incapacitated before a case is resolved, which allows law enforcement agencies to withhold videos, reports, and other information. The Moody amendment would increase transparency and provide families with vital information surrounding an individual's last moments in police custody that ended in death or incapacity. The following link provides context for the Moody amendment, and describes the arduous process that the family of an 18-year-old boy who died in police custody went through to obtain answers about their son's death:
This amendment would promote limited government by increasing transparency, increase individual liberty by providing access to information which every person should be entitled to, and advance personal responsibility by holding law enforcement more accountable to the public. For these reasons, we support SB 944.