Bill would make auto accident reports private

San Antonio Express-News & Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN – Legislation filed by a Houston lawmaker that would restrict public release of accident reports is being opposed by open records advocates who say the measure would violate the spirit of open government laws.

“Anything that’s going to limit the public’s access to that information we typically oppose it. We’ve consistently taken that position,” said Jim Moser, chairman of the Texas Press Association’s legislative advisory committee.

Under existing state law, vehicle accident reports, long held as public records, can be released to anyone who provides the date or address of a car crash, or the name of a person involved in an incident.

State Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, is pushing House Bill 2633, a measure that would limit the release of those documents.

The legislation would make the release of reports limited to the Department of Public Safety, the law enforcement agency, the court and any person directly involved with the accident.

Hernandez did not return repeated requests for comment.

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said her group likely will oppose the bill.

“This legislation appears to cut off information to the public, which is not in the spirit of open government,” Shannon said in an email. “There are many reasons why all sorts of people may need to obtain traffic accident reports.”

Shannon said Hernandez did not work with her group to craft the bill, but noted car accident reports can be vital sources of information for the public to learn about a dangerous intersection or to advocate for better public safety. Such records also are relied upon by reporters to gather information about traffic accidents and fatalities.

Three trade groups representing law enforcement – the Texas Municipal Police Association, the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas and the Texas Police Chiefs Association – said they have yet to take a stand on the bill.

Moser said similar bills in previous legislative sessions have tried to prevent the collection of information for lawsuits.

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