For a downloadable version of the 2013 WCOG Legislative Priorities, please click here.
Oppose Weakening of the Public Records Act. Agencies should not have discretion to reject or enjoin requests or requesters they subjectively deem “harassing” or “abusive”. The legislature should not increase the cost of inspecting or copying public records, or make it more difficult to hold agencies accountable for failing to comply with the law. Agencies should implement cost management measures already in the law before seeking to weaken the PRA or raise costs further. Proposed new exemptions must be carefully examined to ensure they are in the public interest, protect privacy or trade secrets, deter crime, or encourage provision of necessary information that would not otherwise be provided, and that they do not reduce accountability.
Require Training for Every Elected or Appointed Official and Every Government Employee on basic open government principles, including their responsibility to preserve and disclose records. Require every member of councils, boards and commissions subject to the Open Public Meetings Act to be trained on its requirements. Training should be developed in conjunction with the Attorney General, and be concise, web-based, and available at low or no cost. Such training will avoid penalties, attorney fees and court costs due to violations, while improving public trust.
Require an Opportunity for Public Comment Before Final Action is taken under the Open Public Meetings Act. The public should be allowed to make their views known on proposed agency actions, in an open public meeting, prior to final action on budgets, ordinances, resolutions, and other significant acts.
Create an Exemption in the Public Records Act for Audio and Video Recordings of Lawfully Closed Meetings. Agencies would be able to voluntarily present such recordings to courts under seal for confidential review by a judge to establish that a challenged meeting was proper, to hold people accountable for statements made in closed sessions, and for other purposes.
Restore the Original Intent of the Attorney-Client Communications Exemption for communications between public sector attorneys and agencies, which is that they should be exempt from disclosure only in relation to an actual or threatened lawsuit and not on the speculation that some future lawsuit might be filed.
Create a Private Right of Action Under the Public Records Act for Improper Destruction of Records. Premature destruction of records should be actionable under the PRA in the same way as any other improper denial of access to those records, with penalties, attorney fees and costs awarded to a requester if it is proven that the records previously existed and should have been retained and available at the time they were requested.
Improve Preservation of and Access to Electronic Records, such as email, regardless of whether they are stored on publicly-owned computers or elsewhere. Agencies must automatically archive email and other electronic records in a manner that prevents any individual employee from intentionally or accidentally destroying them without proper review. Electronic records must be available to requesters in original searchable electronic form, not converted to paper or scanned image form unless requested.
Fully Fund the Open Government Ombudsman as a Permanent, Full-time Position. In the years the Ombudsman office has existed, hundreds of citizens and agencies have been assisted and disagreements mediated, avoiding significant costs for PRA and OPMA lawsuits and penalties.
Create a Voluntary Mediation Program to Reduce the Cost of Resolving Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act Disputes by avoiding high legal fees and court costs. Participating in mediation must not impair the right of citizens to pursue their case in court if mediation fails.
Protect Funding for Superior and Appellate Courts. The only mechanism now available to citizens to enforce the PRA and OPMA is a lawsuit in superior court. Time is of the essence in many PRA and OPMA disputes. Further reductions in court budgets would deny justice by delaying access to court to resolve these disputes, as well as increasing PRA penalties for agencies.
Protect Funding for the Washington State Archives. Access to public records is meaningless unless records are first preserved. The Archives protect Washington’s most important and historical documents, train officials statewide in record retention and disclosure, and operate the nation’s first and largest archive of electronic records including promulgating best practices for preservation and access to electronic records of state and local agencies. Dedicated funding and reserves for archive operations have been diverted to other purposes and must be restored.
Preserve the Sunshine Committee. The Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee must continue its important work of increasing public trust by identifying and reviewing every exemption to the Public Records Act and recommending to the Legislature whether the exemption should be continued, modified, or terminated. The cost of the committee has already been reduced to nearly zero in previous budgets.
“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”
(RCW 42.56.030 and RCW 42.30.010)