Bill to modify state public records law is alive, for now

OLYMPIA — A bill that would allow local agencies to prioritize or delay some public records requests based on their size or cost remains alive, even after failing to get a floor vote in the Washington State House by Wednesday’s cutoff.

House Bill 2576 has been designated as “necessary to implement the budget” and still has a chance of passing this session, even though it didn’t receive a vote in the House by the Legislature’s deadline for bills to pass their house of origin.

Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the legislation would allow local agencies to prioritize records requests they fulfill and limit the time they spend on requests based on what is reasonable.

Requests from news media, requests that concern safety and requests that can be filled quickly are just some that will remain a priority, McBride noted.

“What we’re really wanting to do is craft a bill that doesn’t impede our citizens and organizations to get the records that they need, while trying to address things like management and prioritization of requests,” McBride said.

McBride proposed the legislation as a way to deflect overly-broad and extensive requests made to local city and county agencies. State agencies would not be affected by this legislation.

Since its first hearing in front of the House Committee on Local Government, the legislation has been changed.

Earlier versions of the bill established a commission to mediate issues that arise between requesters and local agencies before they go to court, and required requesters who seek records for commercial purposes to cover the costs of fulfilling the request. Both provisions have since been removed from the bill.

In its current version, the measure creates a 16-member task force of lawmakers, open-government advocates, media members, local government representatives and the public, among others. The group would issue recommendations on how to protect access to records while helping local agencies cope with requests and attendant costs.

McBride’s amendments direct the task force to prepare and deliver its recommendations to the Legislature before the 2017 session, which includes debating the merits of establishing the commission, but could provide other means to resolve disputes besides court actions.

Many city officials and local agencies, especially those with small staffs, support the bill because they say they are harassed by people who make large requests that are both time consuming and expensive with no chance to recover costs under current law.

Jason Thompson, executive director of human resources at the Marysville School District, said many school districts have seen an increase in overly broad requests. The school district was hit with a request last year that he said would have cost the district $300,000 to fulfill. That request was for records of every instance of bullying in the school district over the past decade.

“The amount of tax dollars that are being used (to respond to this type of request), that instead could be used for the good of everyone, is really frustrating,” Thompson said. “The average person doesn’t understand the amount of money school districts are spending” on fulfilling records requests.

Proponents of open government oppose the bill because they fear it undermines the integrity of the Public Records Act.

In an email, Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, expressed the organization’s disapproval of the bill staying alive without a floor vote as is required by legislative cutoff dates for bills that aren’t designated as necessary to implement the budget.

“We respectfully disagree, because we believe this to be a policy bill and not a budget bill even though it would require a small expenditure of funds for the task force it creates,” Nixon said. “We encourage the Senate to disagree with the House characterization of the bill as necessary to implement the budget.”

Should McBride’s amended measure find traction among legislators, it could re-emerge as some form of an appropriation bill to qualify for committee consideration. Cutoff for those bills to be considered this session is early March.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Chestnut mushrooms grow in a fruiting tent on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at Black Forest Mushrooms in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fungi town: Downtown Everett home to new indoor gourmet mushroom farm

Black Forest Mushrooms will grow up to 20,000 pounds of tasty mushrooms each month. Its storefront opens Saturday at 2110 Hewitt Ave.

Outside of Angel of the Winds Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Police arrest Angel of the Winds arena worker accused of stabbing boss

The man allegedly walked up to his employer and demanded a raise, before stabbing him in the stomach, witnesses said.

The town post office in Index, Washington on Wedesday, Nov. 29, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Index, smallest town in Snohomish County, is No. 1 in voter turnout

Index has beaten the Snohomish County ballot return rate in each of the last 10 years. Snohomish County leaders have a few theories as to why.

Founder and Executive Director Pa Ousman Joof, alongside Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell, right, prepares to cut the ribbon during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Born out of struggle, West African Center flourishes in Lynnwood

African music filled the room Saturday at 19203 36th Ave. West, for the grand opening of the nonprofit’s new state headquarters.

An STI clinic opened Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free STI clinic opens in Everett after 14-year hiatus — and as rates spike

The county-run facility will provide treatment and resources for prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Graffiti covers the eastern side of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County Cascade Unit on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Again, Boys and Girls Club tagged with suspected gang signs in Everett

Residents on Cascade Drive say their neighborhood has been the scene of excessive graffiti and sometimes gunfire in the past year.

A suspected gas explosion on Wednesday destroyed a house in the 19700 block of 25TH DR SE in Bothell, Washington. (Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
After a newly bought Bothell house exploded, experts urge caution

The owners had closed on their purchase of the house just two days earlier. No one was hurt in the explosion.

A sign in front of the AquaSox front office references the upcoming Everett City Council vote on a sum of $1.1 million to give to outside contractors to help upgrade a new stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett AquaSox stadium upgrade gets $1.1M green light from city

City officials want to keep the team in Everett. But will they play in a new stadium downtown in 2027? Or an updated Funko Field?

Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring, left, speaks alongside Councilmember Jared Mead during the Building Bridges Summit on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at Western Washington University Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
County Council members launch bipartisan ‘Building Bridges’ nonprofit

Jared Mead, a Democrat, and Nate Nehring, a Republican, hosted an event attended by 100 people this week in Everett.

Assistant Superintendent Patty Dowd greets a family with their child’s laptop and other class materials outside Endeavour Elementary on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, two days after an overnight fire tore through the inside the school in Mukilteo, Washington. Classes will be held online until after winter break to give crews time to make repairs to the building. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fire closes Endeavour Elementary in Mukilteo until 2024

Classes shifted to remote learning after a fire damaged the school Monday. Laptops were handed out Wednesday.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After 40 days retired, Everett ex-police chief hired to mayor’s office

Everett’s longtime police chief, Dan Templeman, retired Oct. 31. He’s set to start a new role as senior executive director Monday.

The Monroe Correctional Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Unexpected’ deaths are up in Washington’s prisons

At least 29 people died unexpectedly in Washington’s state prisons from July 2022 to June 2023.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.