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Published on Friday, January 16, 2015

What to expect on the public records front this session

As we move into the 2015 legislative session, here are a several public records policies expected to generate debate and discussion. While bills have not yet been introduced on all of these topics, we expect they will be early in the session.

  • Commercial records cost recovery: Today a growing number of local governments are receiving public records requests, often large in nature, from commercial entities. These entities turn around and profit from their requests, often with very little perceived public benefit in proportion to the costs associated with fulfilling the request. In an effort to mitigate the impact of these often onerous requests, local governments are seeking relief through cost recovery mechanisms. HB 1086, sponsored by Rep. Moeller (D-Vancouver), would provide a cost recovery mechanism so that local governments are no longer subsidizing commercial activity through public records. The bill will be heard Tuesday, January 20, at 10am in the House State Government Committee.
  • Real estate transactions and confidentiality: Current law regarding executive sessions under the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) protects the confidentiality of discussions of real estate matters, but no such protection of confidential documents is recognized in the Public Records Act (PRA). At the urging of cities, the Washington State Sunshine Committee voted to recommend the same PRA protection for sensitive real estate transaction records as we do under the OPMA for executive session discussions.
  • Protecting the confidentiality of family members and guardians of children enrolled in parks programs: Statutory provisions enacted by the Legislature in 2010 protect against disclosure of the names and identities of children enrolled in local parks and recreation programs (RCW 42.56.230). However, that same protection does not extend to the legal guardians and/or immediate family of the child. Again, after urging from cities, the Sunshine Committee voted to recommend to the 2015 Legislature these extended protections.
  • Electronic records charges: In recognition of the trend towards requestors asking for records electronically instead of paper copies, local governments will be working with legislators on proposals to allow for agencies to charge a reasonable fee for transmitting electronic copies. Currently there is no authority for an equivalent per page cost for electronic transmission yet there are costs associated with producing electronic copies of records in response to public records requests similar to those of making a paper copy.
  • Office hours for public records inspection: HB 1189 would clarify when a local government with limited office hours has to respond to a public records request and impacts jurisdictions open less than 30 hours per week. It is being heard on Tuesday, January 20, at 10am in the House Local Government Committee.