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Gov. Abbott Signs First TAB Newsroom Priority Bill

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a TAB-advocated measure into law on Monday requiring state and local health authorities to provide information on infectious disease outbreaks at nursing homes and other in-state long-term care facilities.

SB 930 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is one of eight newsroom priority bills sought by TAB and other members of the Transparency and Accountability in Government Coalition in the 87th Texas Legislature.

The bill was filed in response to the inability of newsrooms and Texas citizens who, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck nursing homes and other long-term care centers in 2020, sought answers about whether these facilities were safe for those facilities’ residents.

As the public quickly found out last year, many Texas nursing homes were not forthcoming with information about coronavirus outbreaks at such facilities.

To make a difficult situation worse, family members and journalists seeking similar information from state and local health officials, were also stymied.

Newsrooms filing Texas Public Information Act requests with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) saw their requests denied and the HHSC move to block the release of data.

HHSC argued to the Texas Attorney General’s Office that state or federal medical privacy laws prevented revealing even the names and location of nursing homes and living centers with coronavirus outbreaks.  

The Texas Attorney General’s Office eventually ruled that HHSC must identify the facilities that had been impacted by COVID-19, and the agency began posting the data on its website, but separate Attorney General rulings allowed local health authorities to withhold such information from the public under Section 81.046 of the Texas Health and Safety Code.

SB 930 specifies that the identity and location of a nursing home or assisted living facility where residents have been diagnosed with a communicable disease and the number of residents diagnosed is not confidential and is subject to disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act.

Codifying this in law will prevent information roadblocks in emergencies yet to come.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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