Senate Bill 1563 Much Improved:
Still Makes Personal Emails and Texts Public Information
On May 7, the Senate unanimously approved S.B. 1563 by Senator Rodney Ellis. The as-filed bill attempted to clarify the emails and texts sent or received by a public employee or officer and relating to government business are “public information” under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA). However, it would have gone much further than that and made any city vendor subject to the PIA.
It would have provided that the records of any business entity that contracts with a city, county, or other governmental body would be subject to the PIA. Under current law, a business entity that contracts with a governmental body generally does not have to disclose any of its records in response to an open records request, unless that entity is holding government records on behalf of the governmental entity or has given the information to the governmental entity.
S.B. 1563, as filed, would have made the personnel policies and other internal business documents of a private business subject to disclosure. Further, and perhaps more concerning, email correspondence among employees of a business entity would also have been be open to the public in many instances.
The current version of the bill is much improved as it would not affect city vendors. It would merely codify existing attorney general opinions providing that personal emails and text messages pertaining to official city business are “public information” for purposes of the PIA. The bill now moves to the House Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform.