Development on the Down Low?

General Land Office responds to last week's coverage of House Bill 699, a bill that expands office's ability to keep information about development deals confidential

The Texas General Land Office has responded to coverage in last week's "Naked City" of House Bill 699, a bill that expands the office's ability to keep information about development deals confidential. With gas and oil reserves depleting, the GLO is pursuing various new deals with developers. Under the bill, the office can delay disclosure until a deal is substantially done, even if there are transactions along the way – so that the GLO is not at a competitive disadvantage, compared to private businesses, which are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

But GLO spokesman Jim Suydam points out that the bill only keeps deals confidential until "all substantive performance or executory requirements of applicable contracts have been satisfied." That means the office cannot hold on to a piece of land, claim the state is thinking about developing it, and seal the records, Suydam said. The bill includes a tipping point at which the GLO must release the information or explain why it hasn't, he said. "That's a determination that would be made by the Attorney General's Office. If we tried to weasel and say that we're going to keep this one lot of land forever, anyone could make a case that it's substantially complete and that we're sitting on this one lot so we can keep it secret. It would put the decision with the attorney general, and they would have to defend any decision they made in court later."

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