Attorney General to step up enforcement of openness laws
TEXAS–Texas Attorney General John Cornyn has promised to increase the sunshine that falls on Texas government.
Speaking in late February to the Freedom of Information Foundation in Austin, Cornyn pledged to sue state agencies that refuse to release records after the attorney general has ruled they are public records.
Declaring that open government is the cornerstone of his administration, Cornyn promised to educate Texas government officials about open government law and reduce the number of requests by agencies for reconsideration of attorney general opinions.
Too often, government agencies use requests for reconsideration as a tactic to delay releasing information, he said, adding that unless “critical new information” comes to light following the ruling, requests for reconsideration will no longer be tolerated.
“I want you to know that using reconsiderations as a delay tactic has come to an end,” he said.
Last year, agencies asked Cornyn to reconsider one-third of all records decisions. Some Texas agencies even ignored attorney general rulings entirely, Cornyn stated.
Cornyn said that his office has prepared an education guide to the state Public Information Act and promoted an open government hotline.
In mid-May, the Texas Court of Appeals in Austin upheld one of the attorney general’s rulings, finding that accident records are public and must be released. The appellate panel in Austin unanimously rejected the City of Lubbock’s challenge to Cornyn’s ruling.
Lubbock officials interpreted changes to the Public Information Act as giving them more discretion to determine when records must be released. Cornyn disagreed and released a ruling that the information is public and must be released. The city then challenged the ruling in court.
Both the separation of powers doctrine and Texas statute forbid giving the city greater control over what records are released, the court held. “The discretion which the city seeks would permit it to sit as a legislative and judicial body, as well as an executive body,” the court wrote. “This the separation of powers doctrine does not permit.”
Further, the attorney general’s interpretations of Texas records law are to be afforded great weight, the court noted. (Lubbock v. Cornyn)