Requests for public information, also known as open records requests, are simply requests for information that has been “collected, assembled, or maintained” by or for a governmental body. Texas Gov't Code, §552.002.
The request does not have to cite a specific law or statute, nor does it have to be on a special form. However, requests need to be specific. Overly broad requests are difficult, time consuming and could end up costly. A request may be typed or handwritten; however, it must contain enough description to identify the information requested, the requestor's name, and a means to communicate with said requestor (i.e.: address, telephone number, etc.). Additionally, an open records request must be for information that is in existence at the time of the request.
The law authorizes a requestor to obtain copies, inspect the records, or both. Even when a request is for copies, the requestor must be informed that a less expensive way of obtaining the information is to inspect it. If a requestor wishes to inspect information, a mutually agreed upon time and date will be set for the inspection. Failure to keep the appointment may mean that the requestor will have to wait longer to inspect the information. Understand that requestors will not be left alone with original documents.
HCDE charges for copies of open records. Requestors will be notified in advance, and in writing, if a request is estimated to be over $40. Texas Gov't Code §552.2615.
An itemized statement of estimated charges;
A statement advising the requestor that there is a less expensive alternative, such as inspecting the records;
A choice to accept the charges (which must be signed and dated) or an opportunity to modify the request; and
A statement advising the requestor that if no answer is received within 10 calendar days from the date of the letter, the request will be considered automatically withdrawn by operation of the law.
Additionally, the notification may contain a statement advising the request that a deposit may be required if the estimated charges are more than $100. Texas Gov't Code §552.263. If charges are less than $40, the requestor is advised of charges by phone, and the copies are sent after payment is received.
Once the requestor accepts the charges, they are considered accrued and the requestor is responsible for payment. If accepted charges remain unpaid and their aggregate amount is more than $100, additional requests will not be honored until the outstanding debt is retired. The same conditions apply to a requestor that accepts the charges, but does not pick up the information.
HCDE believes in open government and strives to fulfill all open records requests. Requests are processed in the order received, so requestors should allow time for processing requests. HCDE has no obligation to process one request ahead of another. Every request is important.
There may be occasions in which information may fall under one of the exceptions allowed in the law. In such cases, HCDE will release the information that does not fall under any of the exceptions, and will send the excepted information to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for an opinion on its disclosure within 10 business days of receiving the request. Once the OAG has rendered an opinion, HCDE will comply with it.
Information that does not fall under an exception, and is not voluminous, is released usually within 10 working days. Voluminous information, archived information, or information that requires a program to be written, may require more time. In such cases, the requestor is notified that more time is needed, and a firm date and time for release are set.