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New Amendments to the Public Records Act

New Amendments to the Public Records Act

Gov. Jay Inslee signs ESHB 1980 into law. Courtesy of Washington State Legislative Support Services.

The 2015 Legislature passed and the Governor signed five bills amending the Public Records Act (PRA) that affect local government public records procedures. These amendments go into effect on July 24, 2015.

ESHB 1980 enacts certain recommendations of the Sunshine Committee:

  • It expands the “personal information” that is exempt under RCW 42.56.230. It adds “financial information” as defined for purposes of identity theft crimes in RCW 9.35.005, including social security numbers. That definition also includes: account numbers and balances; transactional information concerning an account; and codes, passwords, tax identification numbers, driver's license or permit numbers, state identicard numbers issued by the department of licensing, and other information held for the purpose of account access or transaction initiation. (Oddly, there was previously no general exemption in the PRA for social security numbers or driver's license numbers.)
  • An exemption for information contained in a locally or regionally maintained gang database is added; previously, the exemption covered only the statewide gang database.
  • Personal information of participants in a ride-share program is not subject to disclosure, except for the participant's name, general location, and points of contact, which can be shared with those who apply for ride-matching services and who need that information in order to identify potential riders or drivers. The permission to provide personal information regarding transit passes or fare payment to the news media is eliminated.
  • Voluntarily submitted information contained in enhanced 911 emergency communication systems is exempt from disclosure. This information is exempt until it is used in an emergency response, after which it is exempt only if some other exemption applies. (Submitting this information in advance of an emergency situation is an option for people such as deaf persons, so that medical and other critical information is available to responders when a call is made during an emergency.) This information is included in a database for purposes of display when a person makes a call to 911. This exemption does not prohibit the display and dissemination of information at a public safety answering point to police, fire, or emergency medical responders. It also does not prohibit disclosure for making outgoing calls to provide notification of a community emergency event; database maintenance; or inspection or copying by either the subject of the information or an authorized representative of the subject. Update (6/11/2015) to clarify: This information is exempt until it is used in an emergency response, after which it is exempt only if some other exemption applies.

Section 1 of ESHB 1980 relating to background information on guardians ad litem was vetoed.

Four other bills amended sections of the PRA:

  • HB 1554 exempts personal information of family members or guardians of a child enrolled in a child care or a youth program, such as one offered by a parks and recreation program, if the disclosure would result in the disclosure of a child's personal information. The exemption applies if the family member or guardian has the same last name of the child or if they reside at the same address as the child.
  • SB 5482 exempts Global Positioning System (GPS) data that indicates the location of the residence of an employee of a criminal justice agency. A criminal justice agency is a court or any other agency performing and allocating a substantial part of its budget to the detection, apprehension, detention, pretrial release, post-trial release, prosecution, adjudication, correctional supervision, or rehabilitation of accused persons or criminal offenders.
  • HB 1431 exempts documents related to an agency's real estate transactions, if they have been prepared for the purpose of considering the selection of a site or the acquisition of property by lease or purchase, if public knowledge of such consideration would likely cause an increase in the property price. The amendment also exempts such documents if a sale of property is being considered, if public knowledge would likely cause a decrease in the price. The exemption includes those documents prepared for an executive session. The exemptions do not apply if disclosure is mandated by another statute or after the project or prospective project has been abandoned or all properties that are part of the project have been purchased, sold, or leased. No appraisal may be withheld for more than three years.
  • ESHB 1078 relates to security breaches. Under the amendment, the term “protected personal information” is no longer limited to computerized and unencrypted data. Minimum notice requirements of a breach are established. No notice is required if the breach is not reasonably likely to subject a consumer to risk of harm. Notice can be delayed if required for law enforcement purposes; otherwise, notice should be given within 45 days of the breach. If the breach involves 500 or more persons, notice must be given to the Attorney General. If an agency is covered under HIPAA and is compliant with HIPAA notification requirements, it is exempt from notification requirements (although, if more than 500 persons are affected by the breach, notice must be given to the Attorney General).

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.

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About Paul Sullivan

Paul worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations in his many years at MRSC. He is now retired.