Secrecy surrounding dates of birth has caused confusion for many interested parties – businesses, journalists and everyday citizens who need information to keep a watch on our government. Dates of birth in public records help voters check the age and background of those running for office. For example, is a school board candidate 20 years old or 90 years old? If someone has a common name, such as John Smith or Christopher Williams or Jose Garcia, a date of birth can help verify the person’s identity. Journalists and all citizens use dates of birth to accurately identify someone charged with a crime, including a school official who may have had a sex offender conviction. Lenders such as banks and car dealerships use dates of birth in the course of business to check backgrounds and make loan decisions. Dates of birth are also useful in detecting voter fraud.
Paxton v. City of Dallas Ruling’s Impact on Open Government
Dates of birth are found in a multitude of public records, including sex offender database, jail records, civil legal filings, election candidate applications, voter registration rolls and others. Paxton v. City of Dallas, a 2015 case in the Third Court of Appeals, has caused confusion among governmental agencies and has resulted in the inability to verify the accuracy of information when dealing with common names.
In this case, the court expanded a prior Texas Supreme Court ruling in which dates of birth in public employees’ personnel files were declared private and ruled that all dates of birth covered under the Public Information Act were private. Since the 2015 appeals court decision, more than 10,000 attorney general rulings have been issued closing access to dates of birth because of the case. And among those attorney general rulings are many “previous determinations” relating to dates of birth, which allow governmental entities to automatically withhold dates of birth without seeking another attorney general ruling. So that means there are far more withholdings of this information beyond the 8,000 rulings.
The release of a date of birth in a public record is not associated with identity theft or fraud. Drivers’ licenses contain a person’s date of birth, and people are routinely asked to show their driver’s license for everything from hotel check-ins to alcohol purchases to bank transfers. In 2017, legislative efforts to address this problem and make most dates of birth public again failed, so Texans continue to be kept in the dark.
Among the thousands of rulings the Texas Attorney General’s Office has issued allowing government officials to withhold dates of birth since the 2015 court ruling is this one that permits the Hidalgo Independent School District to keep secret the birth dates on candidates’ ballot applications and campaign reports: CLICK HERE to learn more.
An attorney general ruling also allowed the city of Mesquite to withhold dates of birth from seven candidate applications requested by a member of the public. The ruling cites a previous letter that lets the city withhold birth dates without requesting an attorney general ruling: CLICK HERE to learn more.
The city of San Antonio was permitted to withhold dates of birth in a police use of force report that a member of the public requested. The attorney general also gave the city a “previous determination” to withhold dates of birth from future Public Information Act requests without seeking a new ruling. CLICK HERE to learn more.