New Public Records Data Reporting Requirement
2017 was a big year for the PRA, with the legislature making several high-profile changes to the law. One change that may come as a surprise to many agencies is the new tracking mandate contained in ESHB 1594, which requires all agencies to log:
- Identity of the requestor (if provided)
- Date and text of request
- Description of records produced in response to request
- Description of records redacted or withheld and reasons for redaction/withholding
- Date of final disposition of the request.
Agencies with $100,000 or more in annual staff and legal costs associated with fulfilling public records requests during the prior fiscal years are required to track 17 additional metrics and submit annual reports to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC).
Many jurisdictions are rightfully scratching their heads trying to understand whether the new requirement for tracking the 17 new metrics applies to them (how exactly do you calculate the staff and legal costs associated with fulfilling public records requests?) and, if it does, when will there be more information to flesh out the broad wording of the legislation?
Answers are coming, but it will be a while before we all know precisely what data to collect and appropriate means to collect the data. In the meantime, JLARC recently released some initial guidance on these two key questions. First, regarding whether your jurisdiction will be required to report, here is JLARC’s initial guidance:
You must report if your entity’s public records costs exceed $100,000. In determining whether you meet this threshold, please consider:
- Legal costs incurred in the course of responding to a records requests. Do not include legal costs of litigation after responding to a records request
- Whether you have 1 FTE or equivalent across multiple staff who are responsible for responding to records requests during the fiscal year. If so, your costs would likely approach $100,000.
Additional clarification is forthcoming.
The $100,000 cost level applies to your jurisdiction’s costs during the previous fiscal year. So, jurisdictions with over $100,000 in costs in 2017 will need to report on July 1, 2018. If you are reporting in July of 2018, you will be reporting data for that later half of the year (the legislation’s effective date is July 23, 2017). This transition into tracking will result in less than perfect data this year because the definitions and measurement standards are not yet set.
Regarding reporting the actual data, here is what JLARC has to say so far:
In response to ESHB 1594 Section 6 (5), JLARC staff are developing data standards and an approach to collecting information about public records requests. JLARC staff are working with an advisory group and consultants, and will reach out to additional stakeholders in the coming months.
Formal guidance will be available in the next few months for information that must be reported in July 2018. JLARC staff anticipate needing this time to develop definitions in order to ensure data will be as consistent as possible across multiple entities.
We realize that there will be uncertainty about what information to track internally until formal guidance is provided. We suggest entities make efforts to prepare for reporting in July but acknowledge that you may need to adjust your approach to align with forthcoming guidance. Please consult with your legal counsel if you are unsure about interim approaches. You should fully implement other provisions outside of Section 6(5) of the law effective July 23, 2017.
JLARC has requested that AWC, WSAC, and MRSC get this information out to local governments. This guidance is a start. As more information becomes available MRSC will keep you informed. In addition, agencies can check JLARC’s Public Records Reporting page for updated information as it becomes available.
We encourage you to keep a positive attitude regarding these new requirements. The prior SAO cost study was a start at understanding the impacts of PRA compliance. Hopefully this more thorough tracking will provide an opportunity for detailed analysis and insight into how the PRA can be amended in ways that all stakeholders will find acceptable.
If you have questions about the PRA or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post or other topics you would like us to write about, please email me at email@example.com.
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