Handling Requests for Public Information
Policy Number: 132
Public information requests
- Date Reviewed:
- October 2015
- Responsible Office:
- Office of Legal Affairs
- Responsible Executive:
- Vice President and Chief Legal Officer; Senior Executive Vice President, Chief Operating and Financial Officer
I. POLICY AND GENERAL STATEMENT
As an agency of the State of Texas, the Texas Public Information Act (“TPIA”) requires that The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (“university”) must make available certain information to the public and to members of the university community upon written request.
The university’s Public Information Officer is the Senior Executive Vice President, Chief Operating and Financial Officer. The Public Information Officer or designee has exclusive authority for coordinating responses to requests for public information under the TPIA and in accordance with UT System Policy 139 Texas Public Information Act.
Note: Several university policies provide guidance on the handling of certain types of requests for information. HOOP 147, Handling Legal Processes contains information regarding handling specific legal requests such as subpoenas; HOOP 181, Records Management Program discusses responsibilities for maintaining records; and HOOP 5, Handling Communications with the Media pertains to requests for news stories and other public relations material. Requests for medical records or medical information must be handled in accordance with the university's privacy policies and HOOP 206 Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information.
Public Information: Information collected, assembled or maintained by the university in the course of its official business, unless the information falls within one or more exceptions to disclosure under the TPIA.
A. Obtaining Public Information
Individuals or entities that wish to request access to public information held by the university must send a written request to the Public Information Officer or as otherwise described on the university’s website. Email and facsimile requests are only valid under the TPIA if sent to the designated email address or facsimile number listed on the university’s website.
The university will also maintain a website containing a list of all public information requests received and links to information produced in response to each request, with the exception of information produced that contains:
- Education records protected by FERPA (see HOOP 129, Educational Records);
- Protected Health Information (PHI) (see HOOP 206, Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information);
- Personnel records;
- Police reports or law enforcement information;
- Any information to which the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System does not own copyright; and/or
- Any information produced to the requestor pursuant to a special right of access.
Documents or information identified as responsive will be posted no later than 14 business days after the information is produced to the requestor. If a ruling is requested from the Texas Attorney General on any portion of the request, the information will not be posted until at least 14 days after all rights to file a lawsuit challenging the ruling have expired. Each request and the documents or information identified as responsive will be posted for one year after the request was received.
B. Requests for Public Information Received by Employees
Any employee who receives a request for records or information shall immediately forward it to the Office of Legal Affairs ("Legal Affairs") via fax (713-500-3275) or electronic mail (email@example.com). Once the information has been forwarded, the original recipient of the request must send the original via interoffice mail and follow-up with a telephone call to Legal Affairs. If an oral request is received, the requesting party should be directed to address the request in writing to the Public Information Officer as directed on the university’s website. If the request is received via e-mail, the recipient of the e-mail should reply notifying the requestor that requests for public information sent via email must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
C. Responding to Public Information Requests
The Public Information Officer or designee has the exclusive authority to release public information requested under the TPIA.
- Responsibilities of Departments in Possession of Public Information
Upon receipt of a request, the Public Information Officer or designee will identify and contact the offices, departments and/or individuals who are most likely to maintain information responsive to the request. Those in possession of responsive information or documents must provide such information or documents as directed by the Public Information Officer or designee. Each office, department or individual contacted must also complete a written certification on the form provided by the Public Information Officer or designee. Such certifications must be returned to the Public Information Officer or designee.
- Responsibilities of Legal Affairs
Legal Affairs is responsible for providing legal analysis and recommendations to the Public Information Officer or designee regarding the decision to withhold or disclose university information, unless it is clear that there are no potential exceptions under the TPIA. In that case, Legal Affairs will provide the information as requested. The Public Information Officer will notify the President as appropriate.
D. Training and Evaluation of Resources
The Public Information Officer and designee(s) must complete training on the TPIA provided by both The University of Texas System (“UT System”) and the Texas Attorney General within 90 days of appointment and at least once every two years thereafter. The Public Information Officer may also ask other employees to complete the UT System training on the TPIA. Such training must be completed within 90 days of the request.
Every two years, the Public Information Officer will evaluate the adequacy of the staffing level and other resources allocated to comply with the TPIA and will inform the President in writing of any changes needed. The Public Information Officer will certify the completion of this evaluation in writing and will maintain a readily accessible copy.
E. Collecting Fees for Providing Public Information
Under strict requirements established by the Attorney General, the university may collect fees associated with collecting, copying, preparing and sending public information to requestors if certain conditions apply. See Tex. Gov’t Code 552.261 through 552.275 and Title I Part 3 Chapter 70 of the Texas Administrative Code. For large or multiple requests from a single requestor, Section 552.275 of the Texas Government Code allows the university to set a reasonable limit on the amount of personnel time that may be spent producing public information without recovering its costs attributable to that personnel time. For purposes of Section 552.275, the university has established a limit of 36 hours of personnel time per requestor per fiscal year.
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