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Texas concealed-gun records closed to public

By The Associated Press
06.03.07

AUSTIN, Texas — Concealed-handgun permits are now off-limits. Search-warrant information could be kept under wraps for two months.

In the 140-day regular session that ended May 28, the Texas Legislature put some key restrictions on what information the public has a right to know and when.

But in what many consider a victory for open government, Texas voters will decide whether lawmakers must record their votes on final passage of bills.

Concealed-handgun licenses had been public information since the law was first passed in 1995. Though the entire list would not be furnished, a requester could ask whether a specific person held a permit.

That changed with a bill filed by Rep. Patrick Rose, a Dripping Springs Democrat. Republican Gov. Rick Perry has already signed the measure into law and it took effect immediately.

"Governor Perry was pleased to sign (the bill) into law, protecting the privacy and safety of licensed concealed handgun holders in Texas," spokeswoman Krista Moody said.

The Associated Press requested concealed-handgun license information in 2005 for all 150 state representatives and 31 senators. DPS records showed that 30 Texas lawmakers had permits at that time. Neither Rose nor Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who sponsored the Senate version of this year's legislation, were among those with licenses.

Joel White, immediate past president and current member of the board of directors of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said sealing those records prevents the press and public from tracking whether licenses are given to felons or other people who shouldn't have them.

The fight isn't about knowing who has a concealed-handgun license, but finding out if someone should not, White said.

Another bill allows judges to seal search-warrant affidavits for up to 60 days. The bill is awaiting action by Perry to become law.

Currently, a sworn affidavit filed to support a search warrant is public information once the warrant is executed and Texas courts have ruled it be made immediately available. The affidavits can provide details on alleged crimes and explain why police need the warrant.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials argued they sometimes included information that could result in the destruction of evidence or put witnesses in danger.

But White said the new law harms the public by putting a delay on an important check of police powers.

"It is an extraordinary power they have to not just search houses but search and arrest people," White said. "If there's something you need to know about, that's it."

Another public-records bill allows local governments to charge people for staff time it takes to comply with document requests if the work exceeds 36 hours. The law, which awaits action by Perry, would not apply to news reporters.

Lawmakers did agree they should be held more accountable for their votes.

A proposed constitutional amendment will be on the November ballot to decide if final legislative votes should be recorded, showing the decisions of individual lawmakers.

Open-government and news groups have pushed for several years for more recorded votes in the Texas Legislature. They say non-recorded or voice votes don't allow citizens to see how individual lawmakers stand on an issue.

Some proponents wanted even stronger recording requirements on preliminary votes and amendments, when most of the debate takes place.

Earlier, a proposed shield law to protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources hit a technical snag and died for the session.


Related

Missouri to keep gun-permit list secret

'This essentially says there is no public interest in knowing who has concealed-weapons permits, and I would disagree fundamentally with that;' says FOI advocate. 10.10.03

Va. concealed-weapons records off-limits to public
Attorney general calls permit-holder database an investigative tool, exception to state Freedom of Information Act. 04.11.07

Public barred from list of S.C. concealed-weapons permits
New law exempts identities of 61,300 gun owners from what's available through Freedom of Information Act. 04.18.08

Ore. newspaper wins access to concealed-handgun licenses
Sheriff had claimed county's list of permit holders were exempt from view, but judge finds state law considers the info public. 04.30.08

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