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On the Records: One Million Requests

State agencies have received nearly one million requests under the Texas Public Information Act since September.

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It's Sunshine Week, the national movement to spark discussion about open government and public information.

At the federal level, that include discussion of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. Here, we have the Texas Public Information Act, or TPIA.

Apparently, quite a few Texans know about the latter. Nearly 1 million requests have been filed with state agencies since September, according to the latest data:

Request Type Total
Agency Publications 28,984
Budget Information 86
Contract Information 1,178
Expenditures Revenues 54
Financial Information 4,485
Policies Procedures 23,942
Pending Litigation 2,052
Closed Litigation 2,864
Agendas 257
Minutes 105
Voting Records 13
Permit Applications 98,366
Personnel Information 4,633
Purchase Orders 579
Regulatory Information 87,391
Rules 4,770
Student Information 1,671
Statistical Information 894
Administrative Rulings 717
Police Reports 3,082
Criminal Investigations 2,585
Right of Access 11,732
Others 701,177
Total 981,617

Of course, nearly half these requests are routine and processed quickly by state agencies.

Even still, relatively few requests were denied by a referral to the Texas Attorney General's office, which issues rulings about whether agencies can protect data under the act's many exceptions. That's happened about 800 times since September, the records show. And, as one might imagine, the Department of Public Safety and Texas Department of Criminal Justice lead the list of agencies seeking exemptions. (They handle criminal investigations, which often are confidential). 

The act is an important tool for the public and journalists to get access to information. But I've also argued that the agencies should get past the need for the TPIA, especially for commonly released records, and make more raw data available in open formats online.

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