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House lawmakers file three bills to stem release of motor vehicle accident information

In what has become a perennial issue at the Legislature, lawmakers attempting to combat barratry and other types of “ambulance chasing” are attempting to make it more difficult for the public (and newsrooms) to access motor vehicle accident reports or the information contained in them.

Under current law, the reports may be released to an individual not involved in the accident if they can provide two of three pieces of information: name of individual involved, date of accident and location of accident.

In the 2001 session, state Sen. John Moncrief amended a House bill on the topic in an effort to combat the barratry problem by making it a Class B misdemeanor to use the information in accident reports for financial gain.

In sessions past, TAB has been able to point to that measure to stem the progress of anti-release bills.    This session, that effort is proving difficult. Four House members have filed such bills and one of the measures had its committee hearing last week.

The House Transportation Committee heard and left pending HB 3224 by freshman lawmaker Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction.   It would impede the release of motor vehicle accident reports to the public by removing location information as one of the pieces of information that must be provided to access the reports.   That would require newsrooms to provide a name of someone involved in the accident and the date in order to require the report, which in many cases would be a tall order.

TAB Newsroom Legislative Committee member Brian Collister of KXAN-TV Austin testified on the bill.  He said the measure punishes those who use accident report information for legitimate purposes, such as to report on bad road conditions, problem intersections, DWI drivers, etc.  Collister called for lawmakers to increase the penalty in the existing law to a felony rather than make it more difficult to access the reports for those who use them to benefit the public.

Other measures include HB 1578 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and HB 2633 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston.  

Guillen’s bill would not prohibit the release of accident reports, but they would have the following information redacted: driver’s license number, date of birth, addresses of those involved in the accident, license plate number and vehicle identification number of vehicles involved in the accident.

Hernandez’s bill goes further by restricting release of the reports to those directly involved, their employers, parents and legal guardians.  It also creates a new exception to release in the Texas Public Information Act, one that closes public access to police dispatch logs.

A final House lawmaker has approached the barratry issue from another angle. HB 3199 by Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, creates a civil penalty to use information gained by a Texas Public Information Act request for marketing purposes.  Each infraction is subject to a penalty of up to $50.  The Attorney General may also bring an action to restrain or enjoin a violation or threatened violation of this proposed law.

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

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