Temporary Suspension of Public Information Act Requirements During Catastrophe
Updated: Apr 17
By Susan Maxwell, Lori Robinson, and Philip Arnold, Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP
Many TWCA members are governmental bodies subject to the Public Information Act (PIA), Texas Government Code Chapter 552. This summary addresses the circumstances, and required procedures, by which a governmental body may temporarily suspend application of PIA requirements during a catastrophe, such as under Governor Abbott’s coronavirus disaster declaration in March, 2020. During a catastrophe, a governmental body may temporarily suspend application of PIA requirements, under the newly enacted Government Code Section 552.233. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) provides resources on catastrophe notice, and guidance regarding calculation of business days for governmental bodies’ PIA compliance during Texas’s coronavirus response.
Temporary PIA Suspension During Catastrophe
Question: What qualifies as a catastrophe?
Answer: A “catastrophe” is a condition or occurrence that interferes with the ability of a governmental body to comply with PIA requirements, including:
(A) fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or 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. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.233(a)(1).
Question: What does it mean to suspend PIA requirements?
Answer: The PIA allows governmental bodies temporarily to suspend applicability of PIA requirements if the body is currently impacted by the catastrophe and the body complies with the procedural requirements in the statute. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.233(b). A “suspension period” means the time during which a governmental body may suspend the applicability of PIA requirements to itself under this section. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.233(a)(2).
Question: How long is the suspension period?
Answer: A governmental body that remains open during a catastrophe can suspend its obligations under the PIA for up to 14 total consecutive calendar days. The first seven days are considered the initial suspension period. If the body determines it is still impacted by the catastrophe, it may extend that initial suspension period once, for up to seven additional consecutive days. However, both the initial and subsequent 7-day suspension periods must follow statutory notice requirements. Tex. Gov’t Code §§ 552.233(c)-(e).
Question: What should a governmental body do if it decides to temporarily suspend applicability of PIA requirements?
Answer: The governmental body must submit a catastrophe notice to the OAG and post the notice for the public. The notice submitted must be on the form provided by the OAG.
Notice to the public must be in a readily accessible place, including the governmental body’s website, and in each other location the body is required to post notice of a meeting under the Open Meetings Act. The notice must remain posted during the suspension period. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.233(f).
If the governmental body submits a further OAG notice for a one-time extension (on the required extension form), it must post this new notice for the public in the same manner.
For links to the OAG’s webpage on catastrophe notice, including required forms and instructions, and notice submission information, click here.
Calculation of Business Days
Question: Is temporary suspension necessary if the governmental body is closed?
Answer: The OAG counsels that the Section 552.233 suspension process is appropriate if the governmental body is “open for business but determines that a catastrophe has interfered with its ability to comply with [the PIA].” A suspension would not be necessary if the body is closed for business or if the suspension period does not otherwise encompass business days.
Question: What counts as a “business day” under these circumstances?
Answer: The OAG has provided an update to clarify the calculation of business days during Texas’s coronavirus response. According to the OAG’s guidelines, the following are not “business days” for PIA purposes:
Holidays observed by the governmental body
Skeleton crew days
Days on which the governmental body’s administrative offices are closed
If a governmental body has closed its physical offices for a public health or epidemic response or is unable to access its records on a calendar day, then such a day is not a business day, even if staff continues to work remotely or staff is present but involved directly in the public health or epidemic response.
Question: What about requests pending before the suspension period or during closure? What if a request is received during a suspension period or closure?
Answer: Under the examples above that do not count as “business days,” the days closed do not count and PIA deadlines would be tolled until the first business day after closure. Requests received during non-business days are not considered received until the first business day the governmental body opens.
If the governmental body remains open during a properly noticed temporary suspension, its PIA obligations are tolled until the first business day after the suspension period ends. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.233(h). Requests received during the suspension are not considered received until the first business day after the suspension period ends. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.233(g).
The information provided in this document is based on statutory provisions and materials published by the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, and is intended to summarize that guidance. It does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. This summary is not intended to serve as a substitute for a full and comprehensive review of OAG guidance and all applicable law. Governmental bodies subject to the Public Information Act should consult with their attorney to obtain specific advice regarding compliance with PIA requirements.