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Published on Friday, February 5, 2016

First hurdle down, several to go as public records priority bill passes local government committee

AWC priority bill, HB 2576, addressing local government public records disputes, cleared its first big hurdle on February 4, passing out of the House Local Government Committee. Even though this is a bipartisan bill, the vote out of committee was strictly party-line, with all Democrats voting for, and all Republicans voting against. The bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee where we hope to receive a public hearing and get it voted out.

Momentum is growing behind our public records legislation, with acknowledgement from Democratic Party leadership that the public records issues plaguing our communities are real and need solutions. This was made apparent during a Democratic press conference on February 1 where House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Convington), and Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island), all spoke to the stories they are hearing from you about the harassing and burdensome requests you see every day. View the press conference here and fast-forward to minute 18:55 for comments around public records. Please keep working with your legislators to keep this momentum up as we face continued opposition and a long process with this legislation moving forward.

Specifically, open government advocates remain very concerned with the legislation and continue to oppose the bill. As a result of stakeholder resistance, HB 2576 was amended in the House Local Government Committee and the provision dealing with commercial charges for public records was removed.

As amended HB 2576 would:

  • Allow local agencies to adopt policies that limit the time and resources spent responding to records requests. Currently cities and other local agencies are struggling to deal with voluminous requests. These often get in the way of day-to-day work activities and other public records requests.
  • Establish a Public Records Commission responsible for alternative dispute resolution for public records disputes. The Commission will provide an opportunity for jurisdictions to seek alternatives to court action.

While open government advocates and the newspaper industry continue to oppose the bill, they acknowledge that real abuse is occurring and that problem requestors are harming the system. This is an important step and we are calling on them to continue working with us to find solutions that are beneficial to open government. To keep this momentum up, we ask that all of our city officials talk about the issues around local government–not just in Olympia and with legislators–but also in your community, with your citizens, and your local news media. We need everyone to understand the amount of time and resources that cities commit to open government as well as the damage that can be done when someone abuses the Public Records Act.

With the bill now in the House Appropriations Committee please continue to contact your legislators and Committee members about the importance of this legislation to your community and urge them to advance the bill before the February 9 fiscal cutoff.

Categories: Open government
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