Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Greg Abbott Suspends His Own Opinion

Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott has made himself look like a fool again. I say “again” because it wasn’t so long ago that Abbott filed an Amicus Curiae with the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on the appeal of Texas Democratic Party vs. Tina Benkiser et al. The Amicus was so laughable that the appellate judges spared him a host of embarrassment simply by ignoring it in the rendering and writing of their decision.

So now he’s at it again.

He suspended his own opinion on allowing public access to county records when the records contain personal information such as social security numbers. Abbott failed to realize that by issuing this opinion he would hamstring any company or organization that needs daily access to land records. County clerks across the state were presented with the choice of continuing to provide online land record services and garnering a misdemeanor warrant every time someone got access to another person’s personal information through the system that they support, or shutting off public access to their records. So they shut off public access to the records.

Title companies and oil companies whined about their being inconvenienced by the county offices to Austin, resulting in Jim Keffer’s HB 2061, a quickly hashed together bill that would repeal Section 552.147 of the Government Code.
(a) The social security number of a living person is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021.

(b) A governmental body may redact the social security number of a living person from any information the governmental body discloses under Section 552.021 without the necessity of requesting a decision from the attorney general under Subchapter G.
In other words, Keffer’s bill would make it legal for the county clerk to divulge anyone’s social security number.

In the age of rampant identity theft, I have to question the wisdom of this.

So Abbott suspended his opinion for 60 days, and Keffer’s bill, while still on the list of submittals, won’t be fast-tracked to the floor any more.

Here in Fort Bend County, we used to have a District Clerk who was taking care of business in this regard. Glory Hopkins, took it upon herself in a project to excise social security numbers from all sorts of public records that were available online. People were wondering about it at the time – why was she doing this? Well, we all know now, don’t we? Glory Hopkins was doing her job efficiently with an eye to keeping confidential information away from prying eyes.

And whatever happened to Glory Hopkins? Well Ms. Hopkins, a District Clerk for 20 years, was summarily ousted from her office by a sleight of hand on the part of the former Republican Party Chairman of Fort Bend County. It’s all explained here.

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