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Published on Friday, July 31, 2015

Mixed bag for local governments in 2015

2015 was an interesting year for open government discussions, wherein the Legislature was often criticized for its own lack of transparency. However, for local governments it was a mixed bag. Several bills passed that address technical issues, such as HB 1431, which exempts real estate documents from disclosure, similar to the executive session allowance for discussing real estate transactions. Additionally, cities sought two bills that would have helped address the increasing costs of public records.

The first was HB 1684, sponsored by Rep. Takko (D-Cathlamet), which would have created the ability to charge for copying and transmitting records electronically. Currently, cities can charge for paper copies, but there is no corresponding authority for electronic copies. Most record requests are now produced electronically due to changing technology. Unfortunately, this bill failed to move out of the House Rules Committee, despite successfully advancing out of a policy committee and the Appropriations Committee. The positive outcome is that we reached agreement with other stakeholders to ask the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) to study the cost of providing copies of records. The Legislature included a proviso in the final adopted operating budget to have the SAO complete the study by next spring. The SAO has already begun initial work on the study. We are hopeful the information in the study will help address concerns held by open government advocates and will allow us to move forward with similar legislation in the future.

The second bill, HB 1086, sponsored by Rep. Moeller (D-Vancouver), would have allowed cost recovery for commercial records requests. While this bill failed to advance out of the House, the concept was revived and included in HB 2156 by Rep. Nealy (R-Dayton) and Rep. Reykdal (D-Olympia). Dubbed the city and county “fiscal sustainability” bill and introduced late in the regular session, HB 2156 didn’t advance, but many were supportive of this piece of the larger bill.

Open government issues, particularly public records legislation, continue to prove difficult for the Legislature to address. In addition to these bills, the Legislature also considered bills about the use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles – UAVs) and police body cameras, but didn’t pass any proposals. We anticipate that these two issues, as well as public records, will return again in 2016.

For a good overview of the public records related bills that passed this session, check out this overview by MRSC.

BillTracker Bill # Descriptive title Final status
  HB 1078 Related to notification of security breaches. Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  HB 1431 Modifying exemptions related to real estate appraisals Law; Effective 7/24/2015
Yes HB 1554 Exempting information of guardians or family members of children enrolled in certain programs, including parks and recreation Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  HB 1980 Implementing recommendations of the sunshine committee Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  SB 5482 Exempts Global Positioning System (GPS) data that indicates the location of the residence of an employee of a criminal justice agency. Law; Effective 7/24/2015
Yes HB 1086 Cost recovery for commerical public records requests Failed
  HB 1189 House of availability of cities for inspection and copying of public records Failed
Yes HB 1684/SB 5533 Establishing charges for providing electronic public records Failed
  HB 1691 Granting the courts discretion in imposing fines and awarding costs under Public Records Act claims; directs awards to the State Archivist Failed
Yes HB 2156 Local government fiscal sustainability bill including cost recovery for commerical public records requests Failed