Last month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied MuckRock a fee waiver for a public records request regarding immigration policy, stating that the TDCJ “does not waive fees for this type of request.” Last year, TDCJ made the same argument to justify a cost estimate of over one million dollars for records related to sexual assault in prison. This begs the question - what type of requests do TDCJ waive fees for?
In June, we requested records relating to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. The fee, which came out to $72, includes four hours of labor at $15 an hour, as well as a 20 percent overhead cost, which under Texas law is a percentage of labor, according to the Attorney General’s handbook.
Texas agencies are allowed to charge for materials, personnel labor, and overhead, for requests that are more than 50 pages. However, if the fee is greater than $40, the agency must provide an itemized statement of charges before work begins, according to the constitution.
This happened last year, when the Texas DOCJ gave MuckRock a cost estimate of $1,132,024.30.
Under Texas law, charges for copies of public records can be waived in full or in part in two circumstances: One, if the governmental body believes “providing the copy of the information primarily benefits the general public.” Two, if the cost of processing the charges exceeds the charges themselves, the governmental body can waive the charge.
The million-dollar request was for investigations into sexual assault cases in Texas correctional facilities in an area called the “prison rape capital of the U.S.” Whether or not this request is in the public interest is entirely up to the governmental body.
We’ve opened up the request for immigration records up to crowdfund, which you can donate to below, or on the request page. Thanks for your support.
Image by Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0