Thursday, March 10, 2005

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Attorney General Abbott Celebrates Sunshine Week By Highlighting Bills Requiring Open Government Education

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today commemorated “Sunshine Week” by praising the Legislature in its efforts to pass legislation that would require all public officials to undergo open government education, and would place the Office of the Attorney General in charge of certifying the training. The first-ever national Sunshine Week will be observed March 13-19.

“I am committed to ensuring Texas government operates in the sunshine,” Attorney General Abbott said. “One way we can do that is to strengthen open government laws so all public officials in Texas know what the law requires of them.”

Senator Jeff Wentworth's bill

Representative Todd Baxter's bill

The legislation, filed by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, would require public officials to take an open government education course conducted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), or other training approved by the OAG. To ensure public officials stay abreast of the laws, they must take mandatory training every two years.

The proposed training would include a background of legal requirements for open records and meetings, as well as how the laws apply to a specific official’s workplace. Coursework also would remind officials of their responsibility to request guidance from the OAG’s Open Records Division in making decisions about whether certain requested information should remain confidential.

In recent years, the Attorney General’s Office has seen an explosion in the number of requests from public officials for open records rulings. In fiscal year 2004 alone, the OAG received 11,300 such requests – an almost 50 percent increase since 2002. The OAG issues an average of 45 open records rulings per day and answers more than 10,000 calls per year on its Open Government Hotline.

Abbott concluded: “Government officials are stewards of the public trust, and we have a duty to be as transparent as possible in the way the public’s business is conducted. Making training available early can help prevent inadvertent compliance problems and ensure our government remains open to the interest of all Texans.”

The Open Records Division provides an Open Government Hotline that can answer questions about the Public Information Act and the Open Meetings Act. The Hotline can be reached at 512-478-6736 or toll-free at 877-673-6839.