Note: This page covers information specific to Texas. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.
You have a statutory right to inspect a vast number of Texas’ public records using the state's Public Information Act. See chapter 552, section 21 of the Texas Government Code, (Texas Gov’t Code). However, the act does not require a governmental body to comply with requests from incarcerated individuals or their agents. See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.028.
What Records Are Covered in Texas
What Government Bodies Are Covered
You are entitled to inspect and copy records of all government bodies under the Texas Public Information Act. The term “government body” is defined broadly and includes city governments, county governments, and agencies. The Act also covers certain non-profit organizations and private entities that spend or are supported by public funds. See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.003. However, the Public Records law does not apply to the Texas state legislature or to the state courts. Consult Access to Government Meetings in Texas and Texas State Court Records for more information on how to access records from those government entities.
What Types of Records Can Be Requested
You can inspect all "public records" of Texas’ government bodies, unless the records fall under an exemption (see below). The term "public record" refers to all information that is collected, assembled, or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by or for a government entity, regardless of the format of the information. See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.002.
A government body may refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:
- Information that the law deems confidential – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.101
- Information contained in education records – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.026
- Information contained in personnel files, the release of which would consistute an unwarranted invasion of privacy – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.102
- Litigation or settlement negotiations of a governmental body – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.103
- Information that would give an advantage to a competitor or bidder – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.104
- The location or price of property for a public purpose prior to a public announcement or formal award of contracts – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.105
- Certain documents related to the preparation of proposed legislation – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.106
- Documents protected by the attorney-client privilege – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.107
- Certain law enforcement and prosecutorial information – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.108
- Certain private communications of an elected official – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.109
- Trade secrets – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.110
- Certain agency memoranda – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.111
- Information relating to regulation of financial institutions or securities – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.112
- Geological or geophysical information – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.113
- Student records from public educational institutions – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.114
- Birth and death records are only available after a certain time period has passed since the birth or death – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.115
- Audit working papers – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.116
- Governmental employees' personal information – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.117
- Photographs of peace officers or security guards, the release of which would would endager the life or security of the officer – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.119
- Certain rare books and original manuscripts – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.120
- Certain documents held for historical research – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.121
- Test/Exam items Texas Gov’t Code § 552.122 – see
- The name of an applicant for CEO of an institution of higher education – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.123
- Identity of a private donor to an institution of higher education – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.1235
- Library records – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.124
- Certain audits – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.125
- The name of an applicant for Superintendent of a public school district – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.126
- Personal information about participants in a neighborhood crime watch organization – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.127
- Certain information submitted by a potential vendor or contractor – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.128
- Motor vehicle inspection information – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.129
- Motor vehicle records – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.130
- Economic development information – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.131
- Crime victim information – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.132
- Crime victim impact statements – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.1325
- Public power utility competitive matters – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.133
- Certain information relating to an inmate – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.134
- Credit card, debit card, charge card, and access device numbers – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.136
- Certain e-mail addresses – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.137
- Family violence shelter center and sexual assault program information – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.138
- Information related to security issues for computers – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.139
- Military discharge records – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.140
- Information in application for marriage license – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.141
- Texas No-Call list – see Texas Gov’t Code § 552.145
Refer to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ Open Government Guide: Texas for more information about the exemptions under the Texas Public Information Act.
How to Request Records in Texas
Your request must be in writing. The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas provides a helpful sample request letter.
You may choose to mail, e-mail, or fax your request. Requests via mail do not need to be addressed to a certain person so long as you make it clear that you are submitting a request under the Public Information Act. However, requests via e-mail and fax must be addressed to the Officer of Public Information (the specific person at office who handles public records requests). If you are unsure who to address your e-mail or fax to, call the government body or search online for more information.
The government body must respond to your request within a reasonable time. See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.228. However, if the agency believes that the record is exempt from disclosure, it must notify you within 10 days. If it fails to do so, then the record is presumed to be public and must be released See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.302. Note that the law only applies to existing documents. The law does not require the custodian of public records to create a record in response to your request.
Section 70 of the Texas Administrative Code provides detailed guidelines for when and how much an office may charge for copies of public information. If you just want to inspect the records, you should not be charged unless the information would take several hours to prepare and fills several boxes. See Rule 70.5. If you request paper copies of the records, you can be charged $.10 per page. You may be charged up to $15 per hour for search fees if your request is larger than 50 pages or if the documents are located separate facilities. You can also be charged labor costs if the records contain confidential information that must be redacted. See Rule 70.3.
What Are Your Remedies in Texas
If the officer at the government body believes that the record you have requested is exempt from disclosure, she must ask for a decision from the attorney general within 10 days of receiving the request. Within 10 days, the governmental body must also provide you (the requester) a written statement and a copy of its communications with the attorney general. See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.301. Any person may submit written comments to the attorney general stating reasons why the record should or should not be released. See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.304. Within 45 days, the attorney general must issue a ruling as to whether or not the record is exempt from disclosure. See Texas Gov’t Code § 552.306.
If the attorney general rules that the record is exempt from disclosure and you disagree with this decision, you may file a lawsuit for judicial review of the attorney general's decision. The suit must be filed in a district court for the county in which the main offices of the governmental body are located Texas Gov’t Code § 552.321. Refer to our section on Finding Legal Help for more information on how to get legal assistance to help you assess the merits of a potential lawsuit against the public agency.