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Explaining the Open Government Trainings Act

Recognizing that, “whether due to error or ignorance, violations of the public records act and open public meetings act are very costly for state and local governments,” the Legislature enacted and the Governor signed ESB 5964 (Laws of 2014, ch. 66), named the “Open Government Trainings Act.” This new law, effective on July 1, 2014, mandates that persons filling certain state and local government offices and positions complete training  regarding one or both of those two laws – and, for some, regarding records retention laws - within 90 days of assuming office or entering into their position. I would say that ESB 5964 is somewhat short on specifics, but, apparently, it was intended to be that way.

The Attorney General’s Office has issued a 2014 Open Government Trainings Act Guidance that comprehensively addresses the legislation’s training requirements. This blog is not intended to duplicate that guidance, but rather is intended to alert you to the legislation’s highlights. The AG’s office has also created an extensive webpage on “Open Government Training,” an invaluable resource for state and local government officials subject to the new training requirements. It is also an excellent resource for the public to learn about open government laws.

What offices and positions does the Open Government Trainings Act apply to?

ESB 5964 applies to:
  • All members of the governing bodies of all public agencies in the state, or, in other words, all governing bodies to which the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) applies. See Section 2 of ESB 5964. This includes elected governing bodies such as city councils and boards of county commissioners and appointed governing bodies such as planning commissions, civil service commissions, and lodging tax advisory committees. Persons occupying these positions must be trained regarding the OPMA.
  • All local and state elected officials, including all persons appointed to fill vacancies in those offices. See Section 3 of ESB 5964. Persons occupying these positions must be trained regarding the Public Records Act (PRA) and chapter 40.14 RCW, regarding records retention.
  • All state and local public records officers and all state records management officers. See Section 5 of ESB 5964. Persons occupying these positions must be trained regarding the PRA and chapter 40.14 RCW, regarding records retention.

What training is required by this Act?

The exact training is not specified, other than what the training must address – the OPMA for members of state and local governing bodies, and the PRA and chapter 40.14 RCW for state and local elected officials, public records officers, and state records management officers. The training “may be completed remotely with technology including but not limited to internet-based training.”

Who is to provide the training specified in this Act?

As with what training is required, this legislation does not specify who may provide the required training. It does, however, state that training on the PRA may be provided by the Office of the Attorney General and must be consistent with the Attorney General’s Model PRA Rules (ch. 44-14 WAC). Even though not so stated, the Attorney General’s office may, of course, also provide training on the OPMA. The required training could be provided by state and local government agencies themselves, or, for example, by organizations such as the Association of Washington Cities, the Washington State Association of Counties, the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, or the Washington Association of Public Records Officers, all who already provide training to their members, or MRSC.

When will the officials to whom this Act applies be required to take the training?

The Act requires the training once the state and local elected officials are elected or are appointed to fill a vacant position. Elected officials will have 90 days after taking the oath of office (if an oath is required) or otherwise after assuming their duties of their position to take training. (The training may also be taken prior to assuming office.) So, although the Act will be effective on July 1 of this year, it does not immediately require training by all elected officials seemingly affected by it. Current elected state and local officials serving four-year terms are not subject to the training requirements unless they are reelected.

The Act requires that non-elected (appointed) officials subject to its requirements – e.g., members of appointed governing bodies such as planning commissions, and public records officers – receive training no later than 90 days after assuming office. The Act does not actually require appointed officials who, as of July 1, already occupy these positions to receive training right away. The Act requires “refresher training” at intervals of no more than four years.

However, we, as well as the Office of the Attorney General, strongly recommend that all persons occupying positions subject to this legislation nevertheless soon receive training in these important laws, even if not required to do so right away or during their current term of office. As stated in the AG’s 2014 Open Government Trainings Act Guidance:

Training on the laws is a best practice, even if not specifically required by the Act. Education helps support transparency in government and reduces risk to agencies.

And please refer to that Guidance for more detailed information about the Act’s requirements.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Bob Meinig

About Bob Meinig

Bob wrote extensively on the state Open Public Meetings Act, municipal incorporation and annexation, and a wide variety of other legal topics. He is now retired.