• DSHS HIV/STD Program

    Post Office Box 149347, MC 1873
    Austin, Texas 78714

    Phone: (737) 255-4300

    Email the HIV/STD Program

    Email data requests to HIV/STD Program - This email can be used to request data and statistics on HIV, TB, and STDs in Texas. It cannot be used to get treatment or infection history for individuals, or to request information on programs and services. Please do not include any personal, identifying health information in your email such as HIV status, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, etc.

    For treatment/testing history, please contact your local Health Department.

    For information on HIV testing and services available to Persons Living with HIV and AIDS, please contact your local HIV services organization.

020.060

Public Information Request Handling Under the Public Information Act

Procedure
Procedure Number 020.060
Effective Date  June 23, 1997
Revision Date  November 30, 2000
Approval Authority  TB/HIV/STD Section

1.0 Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to establish the methods by which the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), TB/HIV/STD Section (Section) responds to requests for information covered by the Public Information Act. The provisions of this policy will be interpreted as liberally as possible in favor of granting a request for information.

 

2.0 Background

In the course of accomplishing its mission of preventing, treating and controlling the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STD), the Section gathers considerable information relative to individuals. In its role, the Section is also responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of information it gathers in order to protect the rights of individuals to which the information pertains. It is the policy of state government that each person, unless otherwise expressly prohibited or provided by law, is entitled to complete information about the operation of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. However, great care is necessary to insure that all information that can be made available to the public, is made available, while insuring the rights of individuals to confidentiality.

 

3.0 Authority

V.T.C.A. Texas Government Code, Chapter 552; Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 25 §§1.251-1.255; DSHS Human Resources Policy No. HRO 0102 and HRO 0201; TB/HIV/STD Section Policy Number 040.001 and 020.060; DSHS Operating Procedures OP-0152 and OP-1355.

 

4.0 Definitions as Used in this Policy

Public information - information that is collected, assembled, or maintained 1.) in connection with the transaction of official business by a governmental body, or 2.) for a governmental body and the governmental body owns or has the right of access to the information. The general forms in which public information exists include a book, paper, letter, document, printout, photograph, film, tape, microfiche, microfilm, photostat, sound recording, map and drawing and a voice, data, or video representation held in computer memory. Electronic mail or other electronic communication is included in the media on which public information may exist.

Requestor - a person, a person's authorized representative, or an entity who submits a request to a governmental body for inspection of copies of public information.

 

5.0 Receiving a Request for Information

All public information requests must be processed through the Staff Services Officer who serves as the Section’s Open Records Coordinator (Open Records Coordinator) for monitoring, tracking and reporting purposes. Questions related to a request for public information may be directed to the Open Records Coordinator.

A requestor may ask for information under the Public Information Act in writing or verbally. However, the preferred method is in written form and staff may ask the requestor to provide the request in writing if feasible. When a verbal request is received, ensure that all pertinent information such as name, address, phone number and, if applicable, the name of the entity the requestor represents, is obtained. Staff may not, at any time, question the requestor's purpose for using the information. See Texas Government Code § 552.222. (b) for additional information. Staff should also refer to DSHS Open Records Procedural Checklist found on DSHS-online to determine the procedures for handling the request.

Upon receiving a request for information, Bureau staff makes the following initial determination:

  • Has the information been previously published?
  • Has the requestor asked for and received the same information before? (See Repetitious or redundant requests)
  • Is the information requested confidential?
  • Is a legal opinion needed prior to releasing the information?

5.1 Contacting the requestor

Section staff may contact the requestor to:

  • establish proper identity;
  • clarify what information is requested, if the request is unclear;
  • discuss how, or if, the scope of a request for a large amount of information may be narrowed, and inform the requestor about any costs related to providing the desired information. Staff must provide a written statement of estimated costs to the requestor even when the costs have been discussed with the requestor. See section 7.0 Costs of Providing the Requested Information for more information.

Staff should document all attempts to contact the requestor or the results of any discussions with the requestor.

 

6.0 Responding to a Request for Information

Bureau staff must respond in writing to every request for information under the Public Information Act within 10 business days. This is a requirement whether the information exists or does not exist, whether the Section is, or is not, required to provide the information, or if the Section does not collect the information. See Texas Government Code § 552.308 for more detail. When a bond or deposit is required to cover the costs of producing the information, or there is an unpaid amount money due for producing the information, the Section does not consider the request of information received until the bond, deposit or unpaid amount has been paid. The time frame for responding begins on the day the bond, deposit or unpaid amount is received.

A response involving information that is not routinely published or distributed by DSHS must be provided through the Section Director or Division Director depending on the type of information.

6.1 Requests for information contained in the Section complaint files

Information related to a complaint investigation may not be released until the investigation is complete. A Section employee receiving a request for information contained in the Section complaint files must discuss the request with the employee’s division director or the Section Director before releasing the information. When it is determined that release of the information is allowed but portions may be confidential, staff must take the following steps:

A response involving information that is not routinely published or distributed by DSHS must be provided through the Section Director or Branch Manager depending on the type of information.

6.2 Requests for information contained in the Section complaint files

Information related to a complaint investigation may not be released until the investigation is complete. A Section employee receiving a request for information contained in the Section complaint files must discuss the request with the employee’s division director or the Unit Manager before releasing the information. When it is determined that release of the information is allowed but portions may be confidential, staff must take the following steps:

  • electronically remove the confidential data leaving blanks in place of the data or mark through the data to make it illegible;
  • send the requestor the information with the deleted or illegible data;
  • include a letter explaining that the Section has requested a ruling from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) as to whether the missing data may be released. Inform the requestor that if OGC determines the data in question may be released, a new copy of the information showing the missing data will be released, and
  • coordinate the request to OGC through the Open Records Coordinator.

6.3 Requests for information regarding Section staff

It is possible that a Section employee has chosen not to reveal certain personal information and has provided DSHS Human Resources with a form AP-65 restricting release of that information. Refer all requests for information regarding Section staff to DSHS Human Resources. When the requestor indicates an immediate need to know about the employee, offer to have the employee contact the requestor.

6.4 Requests for information dealing with staff selection and promotion

Staff must exercise caution in the release of information regarding the selection and promotion of Section staff. In all cases, an applicant's social security number may not be released. Other applicant information is generally available for public review. However, it is possible that a DSHS employee was a candidate, or was selected, for a job and has previously directed DSHS Human Resources not to release certain personal information by use of the form AP-65. Staff must check with DSHS Human Resources to determine what, if any, information on the employment application may be released and insure that only that information is released. Information about non-DSHS state employees may be released.

6.5 Request from a legislator or committee of the legislature

See HIV/STD Policy No. 040.001.

6.6 Information that is collected but would require extra programming and staff time to accumulate

A requestor may ask for information that the Section collects, but the request would require extra programming and/or staff time to present the information in the format requested. In the response to the requestor, staff would explain what is necessary to produce the information in the requested format and the estimated cost for producing it in the format desired. Refer to Texas Government Code, §552.230 for more on this subject.

6.7 Information request from a person who is imprisoned or an inmate of a correctional facility

The Section is not required to provide any information to an individual who is imprisoned or in a correctional facility unless the Section decides to release information which relates to that individual and has not been previously released to that individual. Refer to Texas Government Code, Chapter §552.027 for more on this subject. The Section is not required to respond to requests for information submitted on behalf of an incarcerated individual by an agent of the incarcerated individual other than a licensed attorney.

6.8 Repetitious or redundant requests

The Section is not required to furnish information previously furnished or made available to a requestor. When a request is received for information that the Section has previously provided to the requestor, Unit staff must send the requestor an Open Records Repetitious Form Letter found on DSHS Online.

6.9 Information that is not collected

When a request for information under the Public Information Act is received, and the Section does not collect the information, staff informs the requestor in writing that the Section does not collect the information. When staff knows where the information may be found, staff may inform the requestor of the location of that information. See Texas Government Code §552.308 for additional direction about this requirement. 

 

7.0 Costs of Providing the Requested Information

Any request for information that involves the payment of a fee, bond or deposit must be processed and monitored by the Open Records Coordinator. The Open Records Coordinator will track and monitor whatever type of payment is required. Before releasing any information that has been requested, staff must check with the Open Records Coordinator to insure that the payment of a fee, bond or deposit payment associated with a request for information has been made.

Costs for providing copies or access to public information may be assessed depending on the amount of information to be copied, the manipulation of the data involved and the medium involved. Costs may include overhead, materials and labor. Information about the methods of assessing these costs is contained in Section 552.261 of the Public Information Act and DSHS Operation Procedure OP-1355.

Before preparing the information for a new request the Section Director or Open Records Coordinator may require a deposit or bond for payment of anticipated costs in preparing a copy of the requested public information or unpaid amounts related to a previous request if the anticipated costs or unpaid amount(s) exceed $100. Consider the new request for information received when the Section RECEIVES THE DEPOSIT, FEE OR BOND from the requestor.

7.1 Costs for fewer than 50 pages of information

Refer to Section 552.261 of the Public Information Act and DSHS Operation Procedure OP-1355.

7.2 Initial itemized estimate of charges

When the cost of producing requested information will exceed $40 the Section must take the following steps:

  • Provide the requestor with a written, itemized statement of estimated charges in person, through U.S. mail or by electronic mail or facsimile if the requestor will accept these methods of delivery
  • Include labor and/or personnel costs in the statement
  • Inform the requestor of an alternative, less costly method of viewing the records and that the requestor may contact the Section regarding that method
  • Instruct the requestor to provide a mailing, facsimile, or electronic mail address to receive the estimate
  • Inform the requestor that the Section will consider the request withdrawn if the requestor fails to respond to the itemized statement in writing, in person, by facsimile or by electronic mail within 10 days after the statement is sent

In the event the Section has sent an itemized statement and it is later discovered that the charges were not accurate, the Unit may charge the increased amount provided the increase is not over 20% more than the estimated charges shown on the itemized statement.

7.3 Changes in the initial itemized estimate of charges

When the Section has provided an itemized statement estimating a charge for producing information, and the estimate increases by 20% or more because of unforseen costs, the Section must send a written updated statement to the requestor detailing the charges. The Section may not charge more than the updated amount.

7.4 Method of delivering the itemized statement or updated itemized statement

To be considered sent, the properly addressed itemized statement or updated itemized statement may be:

  • delivered to the requestor in person,
  • deposited in the United States mail, or
  • transmitted, if approved by the requestor, by electronic mail or facsimile

7.5 Requestor action to respond to statement

The requestor is considered to have responded to the statement if the requestor accepts the initial itemized statement or updated statement on the date the requestor:

  • delivers the response in person,
  • deposits the properly addressed response in the United States mail, or
  • transmits the properly addressed response to the Bureau by electronic mail or facsimile transmission.

 

8.0 Time Limits

8.1 Information unavailable due to use or information which cannot be immediately produced

When the requested information is in active use or is in storage and cannot be produced for inspection or duplication within 10 business days, the Section Director or Open Records Coordinator must inform the requestor in writing. The written response must include a reasonable date and hour to inspect the information or to make it available for duplication.

In addition, inform the requestor that a deposit or bond may be required for furnishing a copy of the requested information if the estimated charges for producing the information are more than $100. It is not necessary to inform the requestor of charges of $100 or less. See 25 TAC, §1.255 for detailed information.

8.2 Request for information requiring programming or manipulation of data

Within 20 days after receipt of the request for information that would require programming or manipulation of data, the Section must provide a written response that includes:

  • a statement that the information is not available in the requested form;
  • a description of the form in which the information is available, the contents of the information that may be disclosed and why certain contents may not be disclosed;
  • a description of the contract or services required to provide the information in the requested form;
  • an estimated cost of providing the information in the requested form under rules established by the General Services Commission, and
  • a statement of the anticipated time required to provide the information in the requested form.

No further action is required of the Section unless the requestor states in writing that the information is desired in the requested format, according to the cost and time figures provided in the Section's statement, or according to other terms to which the requestor and the Section agree. The requestor may also ask for the information in the form in which it is available. See Texas Government Code, §552.231 for additional information on this subject.

 

9.0 Personal Review of Information Under the Public Information Act

The Section has the option of making public information available for personal review by a requestor. That option may be presented to the requestor.

9.1 Requestor inspection of paper records

The requestor may usually view a paper copy of information without charge. However, a charge may be applied in the following situations:

  • a charge may be imposed for photocopying the page from which confidential information must be edited;
  • a charge may be imposed for making paper information available that is over five years old, or
  • the volume of requested paper records completely fills, or will completely fill, six archival boxes.

9.2 Requestor inspection of electronic records

The requestor may inspect and/or copy information that exists in an electronic medium without charge unless manipulation or programming of the information is required in order to be viewed or copied. If manipulation or programming is required the Section may impose charges that are necessary to make the information available.

 

10.0 Handling Requests Requiring a Legal Opinion

10.1 Questions about the confidentiality of requested information

Staff may question whether the information requested is considered confidential and not subject to release to the public. It is possible that an attorney general's opinion will be needed to resolve this question.

The time frame allowed to request an attorney general's opinion is 10 business days from the date the request is received. This time frame includes the time the OGC requires to determine if an attorney general's opinion is needed. Consequently, staff must determine if release of the requested information is questionable and refer the question to the OGC as quickly as possible. Route all OGC requests through the Open Records Coordinator.

10.2 What to do when the confidentiality of information is in question

Inform the requestor in writing that the Section wishes to withhold the requested information and is seeking an opinion from the Attorney General regarding the request. Include a copy of the Section’s request sent to OGC. Follow Section procedure (Bur-BCO-211.002) and DSHS Operation Procedure OP-0152 to obtain a legal opinion if necessary.

The OGC will determine if an attorney general's opinion is needed. If the OGC decides that an attorney general's opinion is needed, OGC will forward the request to the attorney general's office.

 

11.0 Revision History

Date Action Section
Revision History
9/1/2017Changed "TB/HIV/STD Unit" to "TB/HIV/STD Section" to reflect new program designation-
10/7/2014 Converted format (Word to HTML) -
11/12/2007 Converted format (WordPerfect to Word) -
11/30/2000 Changed the policy number from HIV/STD Policy No. 020.008 to HIV/STD Policy No. 020.060. All

 


 

Last updated September 8, 2017