Bill requires elected officials to know open records laws

OLYMPIA — Those serving in elected office will be required to study up on the state’s public records and open meeting laws under a bill approved by the state House this week.

The bill calls for elected and appointed office-holders to undergo training on the Public Records Act and Open Meetings Law within 90 days of taking office.

House Bill 2121 also would require training for employees of all cities, counties and special districts responsible for dealing with public record requests.

“Our citizens have a right to a government that takes its responsibility toward public-openness very seriously,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, the measure’s sponsor. “Public officials and agency public-records officers must not violate the law and deny the public our right to see government operate in the sunshine.”

Today, many elected officials across the state voluntarily complete the online-training provided through the Office of the Attorney General website using materials prepared by the agency. Pollet said it takes about 30 minutes.

This bill would make it a requirement and direct office-holders and employees to retake it at least once every four years.

It passed on a 64-34 vote Wednesday and awaits a hearing in Senate Governmental Operations Committee.

Backers think mandating education on the open government laws will curtail violations, especially ones committed accidentally because of a misunderstanding of the laws. These violations can lead to costly lawsuits against their communities.

Supporters cite a 2012 report in which state auditors compiled 250 incidents of open government related-issues among local governments.

Opponents said the bill is well-intended but unnecessary because so many public officials already undertake the training upon taking office.

“This truly is not rocket science and this bill goes too far,” said Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, in the brief floor debate Wednesday.

Representatives of cities, counties and media organizations all endorsed the legislation at public hearings on the bill.

Also this week, the House approved a bill to require most public agencies with governing bodies to post agendas online at least 24 hours in advance of a regular meeting. Those smaller agencies without a website or fewer than 10 full-time employees are exempt.

House Bill 2105 passed 85-13 on Wednesday. It, too, is awaiting consideration in the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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