Changes to the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) and Public Information Act (PIA)

Assuming that Governor Abbott signs it, S.B. 494 will make some changes in our laws pertaining to transparency in government.   This bill makes four significant changes in the law.

 It changes the timeline for the board to call for an emergency meeting, or to add an emergency item to an agenda that has already been posted. Current law requires two hours’ notice. This bill changes that to one. 

1. The bill gives specific examples of situations that would justify emergency action.  The general standard is something that requires “immediate action because of “an imminent threat to public health and safety” or “a reasonably unforeseeable situation.”

2. The bill then offers the following examples of “unforeseeable situations”:

(A) Fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, wind, rain, or snow storm;
(B) Power failure, transportation failure, or interruption of communication facilities;
(C) Epidemic; or
(D) Riot, civil disturbance, enemy attack, or other actual or threatened act of lawlessness or violence.  

3. S.B. 494 authorizes the Attorney General to take action to “stop, prevent, or reverse” a violation or threatened violation of the emergency action provisions in TOMA.

4. The bill allows a governmental body to temporarily suspend the timelines applicable to requests under the PIA by declaring that it is experiencing a “catastrophe.” The definition of “catastrophe” is the same as the examples given above justifying an emergency meeting.  So, for example, a school district impacted by a hurricane can have the board notify the AG that it is “currently impacted by a catastrophe and has elected to suspend the applicability” of PIA requirements during the “initial suspension period.”  That initial period can be no more than seven days. It can be extended one time for an additional seven days.

What that means in practice is that all of the PIA requests from the media and others will be put on hold for a maximum of 14 days. The school can handle the catastrophe first, and then worry about those pesky PIA requests.


Tomorrow: breach of contract suit against district dismissed.