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Texas Supreme Court Determines Private Entities that Contract with Government are Not Subject to the Texas Public Information Act

Written by Gary Lawson and Amanda Costello

In a recent six to three decision, the Texas Supreme Court overturned a long-standing Texas Attorney General and lower court position that chambers of commerce and certain other private entities were subject to the Texas Public Information Act. Greater Houston P’ship v. Paxton, No. 13-0745, 2015 Tex. LEXIS 614 (Tex. June 26, 2015). At stake in this decision was the powerful statutory objective of the Act assuring that governmental entities conduct the public’s business transparently versus the equally important privacy rights that belong to private entities in Texas.

The Supreme Court specifically looked at whether the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) was a “governmental body” subject to the Act. The Act defines a “governmental body” to include “the part, section, or portion of an organization, corporation, commission, committee, institution, or agency that spends or that is supported in whole or in part by public funds.”

GHP is a private, nonprofit corporation that provides economic-development services for a ten-county area around Houston and functions like a chamber of commerce. Like other chambers of commerce, it must compete aggressively to attract and negotiate the entry of businesses to its area. Economic development is a highly competitive endeavor, one that requires protection of privacy rights.

The Supreme Court determined that GHP is not a “governmental body” subject to the Act’s disclosure requirements because it is not wholly or partially sustained by public funds.

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