State lawmakers try to limit overbroad public records requests

OLYMPIA — A bill that would allow local agencies to limit time spent responding to public records requests and charge certain requesters was met with wide support from representatives of cities and counties but faced criticism from open-government and media advocates at a hearing Thursday.

A swath of people representing cities, ports, fire and police departments, school districts and other local agencies all shared horror stories of enormous public records requests that handcuffed them from performing the essential functions of their agencies.

Public records requests take up 80 percent of tax revenue for the Port of Kingston, commissioner Walt Elliott testified, and the requests come essentially from two people.

“Such requests are abuses of the system that directly harm the ability of local governments to get things done,” said Stacy Goodman, president of the Issaquah City Council.

House Bill 2576 would let agencies restrict responding to public records requests if it makes certain records publicly available such as three years of past budgets. It would also create a Public Records Commission to help resolve disputes between people who request records and the agencies.

The proposal has bipartisan sponsorship and would allow agencies to charge for public records if the request is coming from a ‘commercial entity’ that intends to sell or resell the records for a profit. The bill singles out data miners as an example. Its primary sponsor is Democratic Rep. Joan McBride of Kirkland.

Some who testified questioned the bill’s ability to limit bad actors.

After the hearing, Rowland Thompson, executive director of the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, said the bill makes it “far more onerous for the average person to request a record.”

“This just sweeps everybody into the same bin,” he said.

Thompson estimated the number of “vexatious requesters,” is in double digits in Washington, and there should be a law specifically addressing them to solve the issues of the local agencies.

Katherine George, an attorney that specializes in obtaining public records, testified the Public Disclosure Commission is not necessary, partially because mediation is already used to resolve disputes between agencies and people who request public records.

The bill would harm the “99 percent of requesters” by allowing the slowest disclosure when “demand for information is highest,” she said at the hearing. George is also board member of the Washington Coalition on Open Government.

The coalition’s communications director Juli Bunting said they would prefer a legislative compromise that disallows a person from requesting all or “substantially all” of an agency’s records.

For Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson the issue is of high importance, because paying staff to handle overbroad public records requests means less staff is available for other city functions.

“Do I want more staff chasing around frivolous or vindictive records requests or do I want to hire more police officers and firefighters for my community?” he testified.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

Granite Falls
Man, 35, dies from heart attack while hiking Lake 22

The man suffered a heart attack about 1½ miles into the 6-mile hike east of Granite Falls on Friday, authorities said.

36 hours after final show, Everett radio host Charlye Parker, 80, dies

When Parker got into radio, she was a rarity: a woman in a DJ booth. For the past 12 years, she hosted weekend country music shows at KXA.

Dr. Scott Macfee and Dr. Daniel Goodman outside of the Community Health Center on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett CHC doctors, feeling like ‘commodities,’ speak up on ailing system

At the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, doctors say they feel like “rats getting off a sinking ship.” They want it to get better.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Man charged with shooting at ex-girlfriend, child in Mountlake Terrace

The man, 21, showed up to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and opened fire through the door, new court records say.

People walk along Olympic Avenue past Lifeway Cafe and Olympic Theater that currently hosts Lifeway Church on Friday, July 7, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington churches waged covert ‘battle’ against Pride event, records show

Sermons, emails and interviews reveal how an LGBTQ+ nonprofit became the target of a covert campaign by local evangelical leaders.

Drive-in movies are coming to the north Island. (Port of Everett image)
Where to catch outdoor movies this summer in Snohomish County

Bring a chair, blanket and the kids for a cinema night under the stars with your favorite movies, including “Barbie” and “Trolls.”

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.