texas

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Population. 26 million

Land. 261,231 square miles

Per capita income. $25,548

Political Leader. Governor Rick Perry

Rick Perry

Texas is a free country.

If you have lived here, then you  know what I mean.

Texans value their transparency – and the law. Transparency is what keeps us honest and laws are what keep us from shooting each other.

Thanks to one law, the Texas Public Information Act, Texans enjoy the freedom to keep tabs on their government at all times. Here is an outline of the process in Texas of obtaining information from government entities or any organization that receives public funds.

How to request information from the government

Although Texas Public Information Act, is primarily used by lawyers researching for cases, Texas journalists are second best at employing their right to public information. Common requests are made for pubic records such as employee salaries, government travel expenses, campaign donor lists and legal correspondence. And it is as easy as writing a letter.

Anyone is allowed to do it. You can compose your own letter or follow the example of professional nongovernmental agencies, who have mastered the legalese. Try this one: Sample FOI request letter

Cheerleader for the Memorial High School Titans waits for the pep rally to begin in Port Arthur Texas, fall 2011.

10¢ a copy

All major cities and state agencies will know exactly what you are talking about when you request public information.

Often they will release the information without a letter. Sometimes, however, if it is many pages, video surveillance footage, telephone audio recordings or photography, they will charge you for the hourly expense for retrieval and/ or the cost of the paper, DVDs and other materials needed to process it.

Remember: the law says the costs must be reasonable.

What is protected?

The pubilc is allowed to gather information regarding most every aspect of government, however, some types of information are exempt, including medical records and information involved in an ongoing criminal investigation.

I have requested, via the Texas Public Information Act, things such as criminal records, travel receipts and phone records of public officials with some degree of success. Many times government attorneys have tried to dissuade my requests by appealing to the Texas Attorney General.

Mardi Gras enthusiast in Port Arthur Texas prepares for the first of many parties. 2012

When government tries to deny access

If the government entity is unwilling to release certain information it has the right to appeal to the Texas Attorney General’s office.

Through a series of letters, both the government entities and the requestors may argue for withholding or disclosing the information. The AG is required to render a decision on the request “not later than the 45th business day after the date the AG has received the request for a decision,” and after both parties have submitted their comments, the law states.

In cases where the Attorney General feels the information will be in the public interest, he will rule in favor of the requestor.

Most important thing to remember is that, in Texas,

Each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees,

– The Texas Public Information Act.

For more information check out this pdf. made by the AG.

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Check out what the newstramp has covered so far in Texas:

Firefighters attempt to quench the flames engulfing the Moss Rose apartments in Killeen.

Low income housing burns; another total loss      

Another fire at a low-income housing complex causes newstramp to renew his push for greater enforcement of building codes in the big city.

George W. Bush, Crawford Texas, all hat and no cattle, newstramp, Brandon c janes iv

All hat, no cattle

George W. Bush has established himself as the cowboy president. The newstramp spent the day on his ranch covering the W100K Wounded Warrior Bike Ride.

A homelessman panhandling at the corner of W.S. Young Drive and Rancier Avenue in Killeen.

 Homeless in the Army

Although Killeen is the largest city in Bell County, it does not have a general use homeless shelter. Killeen brings $25 billion from the federal government each year through Fort Hood, however, many soldiers families come here without a home.

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Featured Image: Texas Flag graphic by Paul O’Rear / CC BY-SA 2.0