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Texas Public Information Act Dates of Birth Bill Headed to Texas House Floor This Week

TAB and the Texas Sunshine Coalition continue to make steady progress toward passage of four key Texas Public Information Act reforms in the 86th Texas Legislature. With less than five weeks remaining in the session, three of those measures have moved from the Texas Senate to the Texas House. The fourth is poised this week for its House floor debate and vote.

HB 1655 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would clarify that dates of birth, unless statutorily or constitutionally protected, are subject to release under the TPIA.  The bill has its second reading vote in the Texas House on Wednesday.

Dates of birth contained in public records have many uses. Texas businesses require access to them to cross-reference dates of birth in lending transactions and real estate applications. Journalists use them to accurately report information, especially as it pertains to crime reporting. 

Some 1.6 million Texans share the most common 10 last names in the state.  When naming an individual charged with murder, it is important for a station to name the right person or face legal consequences.

So why is legislation needed?

A 2015 Third Court of Appeals decision, Paxton v. City of Dallas, extended a common-law right of privacy to dates of birth of all Texans.  It based its decision on an earlier Texas Supreme Court decision which held public employee dates of birth could be withheld from the public.  

Since the court’s ruling, more than 8,000 attorney general opinions have been issued foreclosing access to information under the Paxton v. City of Dallas decision.  Some Texas police departments are now redacting DOBs from the “basic information” that must be released when an individual is arrested or charged, thereby creating liability issues for crime reporting.  

Without a DOB such stories may be difficult to tell, or worse yet, not told at all for fear of naming the wrong individual.  The Senate companion bill, SB 1318 by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, has already been heard and was left pending by the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

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

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