9/30/2010 9:15 AM
Texans for Lawsuit Reform filed a request for Public Information on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) yesterday. This is the dust-up between Rep. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Democratic megadonor Steve Mostyn.
TLR obviously spent a significant amount of time and legal talent on this release, as it is drafted in a very detailed and precise form. Click here to read the TLR request in full. The request includes asking for information about the amount of the settlement and the attorneys fees.
It's worth noting that several of the items are directed specifically toward TWIA's expenditure of funds. That's because Texas open records law has categories of information that are expressly exempted from the exceptions to the Public Information Act, and most records in that category involve expenditures of public funds. (See Govt Code, Section 552.022). TWIA is a government-created insurance carrier that offers windstorm insurance policies along the Texas coast funded by mandatory participation by Texas property and casulty insurers.
We'll have a lot more to say on this issue in the coming days, but for now it suffices to say that the TLR request raises serious and important issues about the public's right to know. Here's why:
TWIA is a quasi-government entity. It is created and mandated by the government. The Attorney General has ruled that it's subject to the Public Information Act. Will a court honor that?
Mostyn got Galveston District Judge Susan Criss has issued a Temporary Restraining Order preventing release of the information. The normal procedure with an Open Records Request is an Attorney General's opinion is requested followed by a court appeal in Travis County if there is disagreement with the AG's opinion.
The Public Information Act states that "This chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information." (Govt Code, Section 552.001(b)) Yet every judicial action so far has denied public access to information.
Bluntly, there is a danger that the public's right to know could be subverted just by burying certain information pertinent to the operation of a state entity like TWIA in a lawsuit settlement.
The financing and operation of TWIA has been the focus of major debate every legislative session since 2003. It is a critical issue along the Texas Coast. It is legitmate for legislators to enquire about the aggregate amount of a settlement, and there's an argument for releasing aggregate attorney fee information as well.
When I spoke with him, Taylor told me he wants to know why it took two years and an expensive lawsuit to get coastal residents paid properly. That's a fair question for a legislator to ask. Now we'll see whether Taylor, TLR, or the public at large will get answers.