The Public Information Act
Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code, also known as the Public Information Act (“PIA”), gives the public the right to access certain government records. In general, public information is information that is written, produced, collected, assembled, or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by the governmental body. All information in the possession of a governmental body is presumed to be available to the public, but certain exceptions to disclosure may apply to some categories of information. The PIA establishes the procedures a governmental body must follow when responding to an open records request, including a procedure for requesting a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to determine whether information responsive to a specific request may be withheld.
More detailed information on the PIA may be found in the Public Information Act Handbook published by the OAG and available online at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/files/og/publicinfo_hb.pdf.
How to Request Information
You must submit your open records request in writing. Please be sure to include your name, address, contact information, and a clear and specific a description of the records or information you are seeking. Helpful details include license or registration numbers, the first and last name of a licensee or respondent, complaint numbers, and dates. The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners (TSBPE) will work with you to clarify the type or amount of information requested to ensure we locate the records you want. Because the TSBPE licenses individuals and not companies, providing the name of a business without any additional information can slow down the search for information responsive to a request.
You may only request records or information that is already in existence. The PIA does not require a governmental body to create new information or comply with a continuing request to supply information on a periodic basis, to do legal research, or to answer questions. The TSBPE may not ask why you want the information you are requesting.
You may submit your written request via mail, email, fax, or in person as follows:
Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners
P.O. Box 4200
Austin, TX 78765-4200
By e-mail: email@example.com
By fax: (512) 302-5090
929 East 41st St.
Austin, Texas 78751
Responding to Requests
A governmental body must release public information “promptly,” which means that the TSBPE may take a reasonable amount of time to produce the information. What is reasonable varies with each request, and the amount of information you have requested is highly relevant to what makes for a reasonable response time. If the TSBPE cannot produce the information you requested within 10 business days, you will be notified, in writing, of a reasonable date and time when it will be made available to you.
Not all information is subject to release. Some documents may contain information that must be redacted before the TSBPE can release a document. The most commonly requested information that requires redaction includes: social security numbers, dates of birth, certain e-mail addresses, credit card or bank account numbers, and insurance policy numbers. Other information must be withheld in its entirety because it falls under one of the exceptions to disclosure enumerated in the PIA.
If a governmental body seeks to withhold information responsive to an open records request, the governmental body must seek a ruling from the OAG. The request for a ruling must be submitted within 10 business days of the date the open records request is received and state which exceptions to disclosure apply. A copy of the request for a ruling must also be sent to the requestor who has the right to send a letter to the OAG arguing for the release of the requested information. The OAG has 45 business days from the date the governmental body’s request is received to issue a ruling and may ask for an extension of 10 additional business days. A governmental body may not ask the OAG to reconsider a ruling once it is issued.
Charges for Requests
If fulfilling an open records request will result in charges of more than $40, a governmental body must send a written cost estimate to the requestor before doing any work on the request. The OAG is responsible for promulgating and administering rules to determine charges and methods for charging for copies of public information. Following these rules, the TSBPE will work with the requestor to minimize costs, including emailing electronic copies of records instead of sending hard copies through the mail. The requestor also has the option to inspect the records in person at the TSBPE’s office in Austin.
If you receive a cost estimate, you must respond within 10 business days of the date the TSBPE sent it to you or your request is considered automatically withdrawn. You may ask the TSBPE to determine whether providing the information primarily benefits the general public, which could result in a waiver or reduction of charges. In cases where estimated costs exceed $100, the TSBPE may require a bond, prepayment or deposit. If you have an unpaid balance of more than $100 that is past due, the TSBPE can demand payment or obtain a security deposit before processing additional requests from you.
You can access the Cost Rules adopted by the OAG at: http://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=4&ti=1&pt=3&ch=70&rl=Y
For complaints related to open records requests, you may contact the Office of the Attorney General’s Open Government Hotline at (512) 478-6736, or toll-free at 1-877-673-6839. The hotline’s staff can answer questions about the PIA; however, they cannot provide legal advice.
For complaints regarding charges for records, you may contact the Office of the Attorney General’s Open Government Cost Hotline at (512) 475-2497, or toll-free at 1-888-672-6787. The hotline’s staff can answer questions about charges relating to the PIA; however, they cannot provide legal advice.