Another Legislative Session, Another Round of PRA Changes
The Public Records Act (PRA) is not static; it changes after each legislative session and from court decisions interpreting the PRA. You can find MRSC’s coverage of recent PRA case law on our PRA Court Decisions topic page, through our blog posts, and on our PRA topic page.
This blog reviews some of the public records bills affecting local governments from the Washington State Legislature's 2019 regular session.
HB 1667: Changes to the JLARC Reporting
- Identification of leading practices and processes for records management and retention and what percentage of those were implemented by the agency.
- The average length of time taken to acknowledge receipt of a PRA request.
- Measuring requestor satisfaction with agency responses, communication and processes.
And, some metrics became a bit clearer. Agencies now need to track, as separate metrics:
- The number of requests where records were provided within five days of receipt of the request; and
- The number of requests where an agency provided a time estimate for records production beyond five days after receipt of the request.
(Previously, agencies tracked the proportion of each of these requests and responses; proportioning is no longer required.)
Agencies must also track and report the average and median number of days from receipt of the request to the date the request is closed. (Previously, agencies compared their initial estimate with the actual closure date; comparison is no longer required.)
Finally, agencies must track and report on the number of requests denied, including those denied in full or in part.
HB 1667: Sunset Eliminated for Local Government Consultation Program & Records Grant and Training Program
The original legislation in 2017 established a local government public records consultation program in the Attorney General’s Office and a local records grant program and records retention training program in the State Archivist’s Office. Those programs were to sunset on June 30, 2020, but HB 1667 has removed that sunset and made these programs permanent.
There were several bills that made changes to exemptions.
HB 1537: Applications for Vacancies in Elected Office Not Exempt
Applications for public employment (including applicant name, resume, and other related materials) are exempt under the PRA. HB 1537 now clarifies that this exemption does not include applications submitted for vacancies in elective office. These must be released upon request.
HB 2020: Investigative Records Related to Discrimination or Harassment in Employment
- A possible unfair practice under chapter 49.60 RCW (Discrimination-Human Rights Commission); or
- A possible violation of other federal, state, or local laws or the agency’s internal policies prohibiting discrimination or harassment in employment.
While the investigation is ongoing, the records are categorically exempt. The records may be released after the agency has notified the complaining employee of the outcome of the investigation, but only if the names of complainants, accusers, and witnesses are redacted. If individuals consent to release of their names, the names may be released.
HB 1505: Child Victims of Sexual Assault
RCW 42.56.240(5) and RCW 10.97.130 have expanded protections for the identity of child victims of sexual assault. Exempt information under HB 1505 has been expanded to:
- Specific details that describe an alleged or proven child victim of sexual assault; and
- The identity or contact information of an alleged or proven child victim of sexual assault.
The law now indicates that identifying information “includes” (rather than “means”) the victim’s name, address, location, photograph(s), and in cases where the child victim is a relative, stepchild, or stepsibling of the alleged perpetrator, identification of the relationship between the child and the alleged perpetrator. Contact information includes phone numbers, email addresses, and social media profiles (as well as usernames and passwords).
There were more public records related bills this legislative session, but this blog reviews those bills that are generally applicable to local governments. If you want to learn more about these and other public records bills from this legislative session, register for MRSC’s free June 19 webinar Legislative Update – 2019 Public Record Bills. This webinar will feature Nancy Krier, the Washington Attorney General’s Office Open Government Assistant Attorney General, and is being presented in partnership with the Washington Association of Public Records Officers (WAPRO).
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