Sunlight is the best disinfectant, but it may have to wait 14 days

Since Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for COVID-19 in early March, more than 90 municipalities, school districts and other governmental bodies have posted “Catastrophe Notices” under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA). Posting a Catastrophe Notice allows a governmental body that is being impacted by a “catastrophe” to suspend requirements of the PIA for up to two weeks.

The Texas legislature added the Catastrophe Notice provision (section 552.233) to the PIA in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which left some government offices flooded and inaccessible and governmental employees unable to respond to public information requests within the 10-business-day period proscribed by the PIA.

Catastrophe Notices have not been widely used since the law took effect in September 2019, and before the coronavirus pandemic, only four governmental bodies had taken advantage of the new law. Dallas Independent School District posted a notice after tornadoes hit Dallas in October 2019. And three other governmental bodies each posted a notice related to cyber-security incidents that caused an interruption to communications facilities. COVID-19 is putting section 552.233 to a trial by fire.

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