On April 8 , Accio Data joined representatives from LexisNexis, Experian, and BackgroundChecks.com to strongly voice NAPBS’ concern about HB2700, currently under consideration by a Texas legislative committee on Government Transparency and Operation.
Basically, the bill has two components:
- Any person/organization wishing to purchase court records “in bulk” for Class B felony and higher cases would only be able to purchase them through the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
- All clerks, courts or agencies fulfilling records requests for Class C and lower records must publish the requestor’s name and contact information on the court/agency’s website or post it in a prominent place.
The stated reasons for the proposed legislation is to ease the workload on individual county clerks in fulfilling information, to ensure the accuracy of records being released, and to promote greater transparency in government, but legitimate background screening firms and records wholesalers can immediately recognize the problems with this bill.
The first is timeliness; under current Texas law, clerks are only required to update the DPS data once per month but they are on an “honor system” to do it and there are no penalties for failure to do so. A state audit of the records database in 2011 found that some of the largest counties in the state – Dallas, Travis (Austin), Hidalgo and Cameron (along the Mexican border), Bexar (San Antonio), and Tarrant (Fort Worth) – were found to have submitted 1% or less of their court records to DPS.
The second (and most important) problem is accuracy. A state audit of the records database in 2011 found that “prosecutor offices and courts had submitted disposition records to the Computerized Criminal History System for 73.68 percent of arrests made in 2009” and “users may not receive a reliable result from criminal history background checks that are conducted based on the data in that system.” A San Antonio television station showed some even more alarming flaws in the system in an investigative report the following year in which convicted murderers sitting on Texas’ Death Row still didn’t have any criminal records on file at DPS.
At the committee’s urging, we are reaching out to the bill’s sponsor, Representative Senfronia Thompson, to suggest changes to the text of the bill in order to protect the interests and accessibility of those records for legitimate background screening firms and records wholesalers. We’ll keep you updated on the progress.