March 20, 2017 by Nancy Krier
Open Government Advisor
Public Records Act
The Washington State Legislature (Legislature) has passed the halfway point in the 2017 regular session. This session convened on January 9 and is scheduled to end April 23.
In this session, the Legislature is considering bills that will impact the Public Records Act (PRA) at RCW 42.56. Other bills under consideration address topics such as exemptions from disclosure (in the PRA or other statutes), records for certain agencies, and technology.
The Legislature established cutoffs for bills to proceed during the regular session, and many are still moving. A few bills that would impact the PRA are summarized below, largely in numerical order, though this list is not exhaustive. Bills are described as worded on March 17; however, these may still be amended and new bills may be introduced before the end of the session
Pending Public Records Bills in the Legislature
In the descriptions below, the word “amend” is used below to describe bills that would amend or add new sections to existing laws.
SHB 1160. The substitute bill would amend the PRA and other laws to address the recommendations of the Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee (“Sunshine Committee”) with respect to exemptions and laws concerning: (1) consent to release of information about a child; (2) information about public agency employees, volunteers, and their children; (3) pending investigations of unfair practices or employment discrimination; (4) trade secrets and proprietary information; and, (5) bid documents. It passed the House of Representatives 97-0 and was heard by the Senate State Government Committee on March 15. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 5418, is not proceeding at this time.
ESHB 1594. The engrossed substitute bill would amend the PRA to require: (1) agencies to respond to the portion of a public records request that is clear even if other portions are unclear; (2) public records officers to receive training on issues related to retention and production of electronic records; (3) local agencies to consult the Attorney General’s Office advisory PRA Model Rules when establishing local PRA ordinances; (4) the Attorney General’s Office to establish a records consultation program for local governments, through June 30, 2020; and (5) the State Archivist to offer records retention consultation and training services for local agencies, through June 30, 2020. Additionally, it would amend other laws to require the State Archives to establish a competitive grant program for local agencies to improve technology and to conduct a study on a portal for public records. To fund the grant and consultation programs, a $1 surcharge would be required on county recorded documents. This bill passed the House of Representatives 79-18 and was heard by the Senate State Government Committee on March 15.
EHB 1595. The engrossed bill would amend the PRA to: (1) address charges for copies of electronic records and set a default fee schedule, (2) authorize a customized service charge for locating and preparing public records for exceptionally complex requests, (3) require a PRA request to be for identifiable records, and, (4) allow denials of automated “bot” requests that would interfere with other essential functions of the agency. It passed the House of Representatives 75-22 and was heard by the Senate State Government Committee on March 15.
HB 1829. This bill would amend the PRA to exempt information regarding the public and private infrastructure and security of computer and telecommunications networks. It passed the House of Representatives 98-0 and is scheduled for a March 21 public hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy, Technology, and Telecommunications (subject to change).
While not a PRA bill, SHB 1417 is also of interest on this topic. The substitute bill would amend the Open Public Meetings Act at RCW 42.30 to harmonize it with the PRA, authorizing a public agency’s governing body to hold an executive session to discuss information regarding the security and vulnerability of agency computer and telecommunications network infrastructure.
HB 2097. This bill would amend the PRA to exempt personally identifying information about an individual’s religious affiliation. It passed the House of Representatives 98-0 and was referred to the Senate Committee on Law and Justice; a hearing in that committee was not scheduled as of March 16. A companion bill, SB 5828, is not proceeding at this time.
SSB 5207. The substitute bill would amend the PRA to provide an exemption for global positioning system (GPS) data that would indicate the location of the residence of any public employee or volunteer using the GPS recording device. It passed the Senate 46-0 and was heard by the House Committee on State Government, Elections and Information Technology on March 15. A companion bill, HB 1317, is not proceeding at this time. (A similar bill passed the Legislature in 2015 regarding GPS data of the residences of criminal justice employees).
The next cutoff date is March 29, which is the last day to read committee reports (except fiscal and transportation) in the opposite house. The last day to pass bills out of the opposite house, with some exceptions, is April 12. It is always possible that the Governor could call a special session or sessions after the regular session adjourns.
Unless otherwise specified within the legislation, a bill that passes both the House of Representatives and the Senate and is signed by the Governor becomes effective 90 days after adjournment of the session in which the bill passed.
To see the full text of all bills introduced in 2017 or to check on the status of a specific bill, visit the Legislature’s Bill Information webpage.