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Attorney general declares Gov. Bush papers are state property

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         TEXAS         Freedom of Information         May 10, 2002    

Attorney general declares Gov. Bush papers are state property

  • The state’s top attorney determined that President Bush acted lawfully in placing his gubernatorial papers in the care of his father’s presidential library provided that the library complies with the state’s open-records law.

Although President Bush acted lawfully when he placed the papers from his years as Texas governor into the George Bush Library last year, the Texas Public Information Law continues to govern the release of such documents, the attorney general ruled recently.

Attorney General John Cornyn said the records remain subject to the open records act in a May 3 opinion requested by both the state Office of the Governor and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Cornyn further added that the commission did not relinquish control of the records by allowing Bush to house them elsewhere.

The Texas Legislature in 1997 authorized its former governors, with the consultation of state archivists, to place their official records into a repository other than the state archives. The Texas State Library and Archives, however, houses the official papers of every Texas governor before Bush, including the first one, James Pinckney, who served from 1846 to 1847.

Bush secured a one-page agreement on Dec. 19 to place records of his term in his father’s presidential library although the specific details were not specified.

Soon after, Bush placed more than 1,800 boxes of documents into the care of the George Bush Library, the presidential library at Texas A&M University.

The 1997 law “permits a governor in consultation with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to designate an alternative repository in the state for his gubernatorial records,” Cornyn ruled. “The records remain the property of the State of Texas, and remain subject to the Texas Public Information Act.”

Within weeks of the records arriving at the Bush Library, the New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, the Associated Press and Public Citizen had all submitted open-records requests for information from the Bush papers. Most of the requests involved correspondence between Bush and Enron officials and records concerning energy deregulation.

In two other related opinions, the state attorney general’s office informed state archivists that the state Public Information Act governs the records. Librarians, thus, would have to cite specific exemptions in the law before withholding any documents.

(Texas Op. Att’y Gen. Nos. JC-0498, OR 2002-2311, OR 2002-2312) PT

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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