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Published on Monday, August 14, 2017

Big win for AWC, priority public records laws pass this year

2017 was a big year for public records with the passage of two of AWC’s priorities bills. We have spent years seeking updates to the Public Records Act (PRA) to address the challenges cities face in complying with the increasing complexity and volume of records requests.

The work on AWC’s two priority bills, HB 1594 and HB 1595, began over a year ago with commitments from Representatives Joan McBride (D-Kirkland) and Terry Nealey (R-Dayton) to bring stakeholders together to find common ground for updates to the PRA. Months of meetings and negotiations followed and culminated in the successful passage of these two bills. There are many parties to thank. In addition to our prime sponsors, several other legislators were key to the process including Representatives Springer (D-Kirkland), Senn (D-Mercer Island), Koster (R-Everett), and Hudgins (D-Tukwila) and Senators Miloscia (R-Federal Way), Hunt (D-Olympia), Schoesler (R-Ritzville), and Kuderer (D-Clyde Hill). AWC was joined in this effort by the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), making it a true local government partnership. We also want to thank all the other stakeholders, especially Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington and the Washington Coalition for Open Government who came together to find compromise. Finally, we are so grateful to all our city officials who worked so hard to help pass these changes.

The work now begins on implementation of the new laws. AWC, WSAC and the Municipal Research & Services Center (MRSC) hosted a webinar on the new laws on July 17. The new laws included new reporting requirements to be administered by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC). JLARC is working with stakeholders to develop common definitions and a standard reporting process. Here is a link to preliminary guidance from JLARC on reporting. The bills provided the Attorney General and the State Archivist funding for consultation programs for local government and those programs are now in the development stages.

There were a few other bills of note on open government in 2017.

HB 1417 allows discussion of cybersecurity issues in executive session with legal counsel present. HB 1829 specifies that certain information regarding public and private computer and telecommunications networks is exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act. SB 5207 exempts disclosure of GPS data that would indicate the location of any public employee or volunteer.

Additional details on the two AWC priority bills:

HB 1595 amends the PRA to allow cities to charge a small fee for providing copies of electronic records. A city may establish different fees by conducting its own cost-study, but the default charges in the bill are as follows:

  • 10 cents per scanned page
  • 5 cents per four files or attachments
  • 10 cents per gigabyte
  • These charges may be applied cumulatively

The bill also:

  • Allows an agency to charge a flat fee of $2 for providing copies when the estimated costs are expected to be $2 or more.
  • Creates the ability for cities to deny overwhelming computer generated “bot” requests.
  • Prohibits overly broad requests for all a city’s records.
  • Creates a way for cities to apply a service charge to exceptionally complex requests.

HB 1594:

  • Requires training for records officers to address issues of retention, production and disclosure of electronic records.
  • Creates a grant program within the Office of the Secretary of State for local governments to improve their public record management systems.
  • Establishes a program within the Office of the Attorney General and the State Archives to consult with local governments on public records best practices.
  • Provides for a $1 document recording fee to fund the consultation and grant programs.
  • The funding and the programs will sunset in 2020.
  • Updates the process for asking a requestor to clarify a request.
  • Requires agencies to maintain a log of each records request.
  • Requires agencies with actual budgeted public records costs over $100,000 to report certain performance measurements to JLARC.
  • Exempts certain volunteers’ records from disclosure.

Bill #

Descriptive title

Final status

HB 1417

Concerning the harmonization of the open public meetings act with the public records act in relation to information technology security matters

Law, Effective 7/23/2017

HB 1594

Improving public records administration

Law, Effective 7/23/2017

HB 1595

Concerning costs associated with responding to public records requests

Law, Effective 7/23/2017

HB 1829

Concerning the exemption from public disclosure of information regarding public and private computer and telecommunications networks

Law, Effective 7/23/2017

SB 5207

Concerning the public disclosure of global positioning system data corresponding to residential addresses of public employees and volunteers

Law, Effective 7/23/2017

SB 5545

Requiring public employee collective bargaining sessions to be open meetings

Did not pass

SB 5710

Concerning penalties awarded for violations of the public records act

Did not pass