Judith Zaffirini's bill lays out open records obligations of UT System's Board of Regents

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The UT System Board of Regents would have to disclose information regents say would hinder its investigative powers under legislation filed Monday in the Texas Senate.

The bill, filed by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and co-authored by 16 senators, would require state agencies or governmental bodies to give lawmakers requested information that agencies say would handicap their ability to conduct investigations.

The legislation would require bodies to disclose information that may result in the loss of attorney-client privilege.

It would also require agencies to produce information to lawmakers within 10 days of the initial request. After 10 days, the agency must set a time and date for lawmakers to retrieve and examine the information.

The bill does not specify involvement of the Texas Attorney General’s office in reviewing documents that agencies do not see fit to disclose as the Texas Public Information Act does.

Under that law, agencies must produce information in a timely manner relative to the request. Agencies have 10 days to seek an opinion from the attorney general’s office about the release of that information. If they do not, they must set a time and date for viewing and examination of the requested information.

The bill comes after Board Chairman Gene Powell requested legal advice from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott regarding the potential withholding of some information requested by legislators, citing concerns that releasing requested information would hinder an ongoing investigation into the UT Law School Foundation.

The board will meet Thursday to consider releasing the information. They will also discuss the $500,000 investigation into the foundation, which regents approved by a vote of 4-3 at their last meeting.

In a three-page statement, Zaffirini called Powell’s request to Abbott an “outrageous” delay tactic and said she had heard Powell’s behavior compared to former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s behavior during the Watergate scandal.