SENATE BILL WOULD MAKE VENDORS SUBJECT TO PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT
The League recently notified its associate members of proposed legislation that would make private business documents open to the public. Senate Bill 1571 by Senator Kirk Watson provides that the records of any business entity that contracts with a city, county, or other governmental body to provide a “function” would be subject to the Texas Public Information Act (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. 1571, if passed, would specifically expand the definition of “public information” to include information possessed by “an individual, corporation, or other business entity” that performs a public function on behalf of the governmental entity. Essentially, if the bill becomes law, and a business currently contracts with a governmental body to perform a function that the governmental entity could otherwise perform, the documents of the business would be open to the general public.
The PIA applies broadly to include both paper and electronic records. Personnel policies and other internal business documents would be public under the proposed legislation. Further, and perhaps more concerning, e-mail correspondence among employees of a business entity would also be open to the public in many instances.
While the prospect of this legislation passing is understandably worrisome to those business entities that contract with governmental bodies, it also is troubling for the cities and counties that rely on these entities to perform critical services. The application of the PIA to contractors would create a disincentive for those businesses to continue to enter into contracts with local governments.
We urge you to notify your vendors and ask them to contact their state senators and representatives as soon as possible to express their opposition to S.B. 1571.