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RULE §1.251Procedures for Handling Requests for Public Information

(a) The department requires that all public information requests be in writing, to include fax and e-mail, unless there are special circumstances. Program staff may determine whether a verbal request may be accepted.

(b) The program handling the request for public information will review the request and determine what records are requested; who is requesting the records; whether inspection or actual copies of the records are requested; and whether the requested records are open, confidential, or partially open and partially confidential. The Office of General Counsel is available to provide assistance in making these determinations.

(c) To the extent possible the department will attempt to accommodate a requestor by providing information in the format requested. For example, if a requestor asks that information be provided on a diskette and the requested information is electronically stored, the department should provide the information on diskette. The department is not required to acquire software, hardware, or programming capabilities that it does not already possess to accommodate a particular kind of request except in accordance with the Public Information Act (Act), §552.231.

(d) Provision of a copy of public information in the requested medium must not violate the terms of any copyright agreement between the department and a third party. Therefore, the department will not make copies nor allow use of state equipment for copying of materials copyrighted by a person other than the department. This limitation also will apply to material copyrighted by the department when the department copyright is restricted to certain uses. The requestor may bring a portable copier, camera, or other recording device to copy the copyright material.

(e) The program handling the request for public information must have the records ready for inspection or copies duplicated promptly or within a reasonable time, but no later than 10 business days after the date the department received the request. If the program cannot produce the public information for inspection or duplication within 10 business days after the date the department received the request, the program will certify that fact in writing to the requestor and set a date and hour within a reasonable time when the information will be available for inspection or duplication.

  (1) Prior to the end of the 10 business days or the set date and hour, if applicable, the program will notify the requestor of the estimated costs if the costs will be over $40.

  (2) The program may require a cash deposit on requests for copies of public information which are estimated to exceed $100. The breakdown on deposit requirements are outlined in the department's operating procedures relating to charges for records under the Act.

  (3) All efforts should be made to process requests as efficiently as possible so that requested information will be provided at the lowest possible charge.

  (4) Full disclosure must be made to the requesting party as to how the charges were calculated.

  (5) All charges for public information in an amount of $100 or more must be paid to the department before the public information is actually provided to the requestor by inspection or duplication. On orders under $100, the program staff have the option to require prepayment before providing the information or they have the option to provide the information to the requestor along with a copy of the billing statement, which must be returned with the remittance.

  (6) If the department has previously provided public information to a requestor and billed the requestor for the information and if the billings exceed $100 and are unpaid, the department may require a deposit for payment of the unpaid amounts owed to the department before preparing to fulfill a new request for public information from the same requestor. The department may not seek payment of those unpaid amounts through any other means.

  (7) If a request for information requires programming or manipulation of data pursuant to the Act, §552.231 and the department's policy established under that section, the time frame in this subsection will not apply until the requestor files the written statement described in the Act, §552.231(d)(1) or (2). Once the written statement is filed, the program handling the request shall comply with this subsection.

  (8) When payment is required in advance of providing the public information, failure of the requestor to pay the costs of the copies within 30 days of notification of the estimated costs, or a longer period of time, if granted by the program, will be considered a withdrawal of the request for information.

(f) The program, at its discretion, may provide public information without charge or at a reduced charge if the waiver or reduction of the charge is in the public interest, because providing the copies primarily benefits the general public, or if the cost for the collection of a charge will exceed the amount of the charge.

(g) The department may set the price for publications it publishes for public dissemination or it may disseminate them free of charge. This rule and department policy do not limit the costs of departmental publications.

Source Note: The provisions of this §1.251 adopted to be effective August 9, 1998, 23 TexReg 7801; amended to be effective November 7, 2002, 27 TexReg 10382; amended to be effective December 12, 2005, 30 TexReg 8291

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