Washington Public Records Act
- 1 Relevant legal cases
- 2 Proposed changes
- 3 Transparency report card
- 4 Features of the law
- 4.1 Declared legal intention
- 4.2 What records are covered?
- 4.3 What agencies are covered?
- 4.4 Who may request records?
- 4.5 Must a purpose be stated?
- 4.6 How can records be used?
- 4.7 Time allowed for response
- 4.8 Fees for records
- 4.9 Role of the Attorney General
- 5 Open meetings
- 6 Notable requests
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 References
The Washington Public Records Act (PRA) is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Washington.
The Washington Open Public Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.
To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Washington FOIA procedures.
Relevant legal cases
Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in Washington (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).
|ACLU v. City of Seattle||2009|
|Brouillet v. Cowles Publishing||1990|
|Cathcart v. Andersen||1974|
|City of Federal Way v. Koenig||2009|
|Cowles Publishing Co. v. Murphy||1981|
|Hangartner v. City of Seattle||2004|
|Harold Carey v. Mason County||2009|
|Hearst Corp. v. Hoppe||1978|
|Laborers Int'l Union Local No. 374 v. City of Aberdeen||1982|
|Nast v. Michels||1986|
|O'Neill v. City of Shoreline||2008|
|Progressive Animal Welfare Society v. University of Washington||1994|
|Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound v. City of Des Moines||2009|
|Soter v. Cowles Publishing||2007|
|Telford v. Thurston County Board of Commissioners||1999|
|Wood v. Battle Ground School District||2001|
|Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims||2009|
We do not currently have any legislation for Washington in 2011.
We have no current bill pages for Washington from 2010. This may be due to incomplete research.
A raft of new legislation to change the law was introduced in the state's 2009 legislative session.
- SB 5119 - Eliminate the Washington Sunshine Committee.
- SB 5130 - Prisoner access to public records. Sen. Mike Carrell (R-Lakewood) was the sponsor and said he had concerns that the law (which allows prisoners to file FOIA requests) might be too liberal.
- SB 5249 - Changing public records request provisions.
- SB 5250 - Increases the maximum per page copying charge under the public records act.
- SB 5251 - Defines per page cost for the purpose of copying costs under the public records act.
The Seattle Times editorialized against the three bills proposed by Sen. Darlene Fairley (D-Shoreline): SB5249, SB5250 and SB5251, calling their common theme of increasing the costs of obtaining open records "a move sure to discourage people with the right to keep tabs on their government."
- HB 1017 - Creating a committee to study the feasibility of creating a board with public records act and open public meetings act responsibilities.
- HB 1105 - Regarding public disclosure of records relevant to a controversy to which an agency is a party.
- HB 1106 - Removing the ability of agencies to enjoin the examination of a specific public record.
- HB 1107 - Regarding local government self-insurance programs and public records.
- HB 1181 - Regarding prisoner access to public records.
- HB 1288 - Exempts the annual parental declaration of intent to home school from the public disclosure act.
- HB 1316 - Provides a court procedure to enjoin the production of public records the court deems were made for the purpose of harassment.
- HB 1317 - Governs the disclosure of public records containing information used to locate or identify employees of criminal justice agencies.
- HB 1471 - Removing the public records exemption for certain records addressing public sector collective bargaining.
Transparency report card
A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Washington 56 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 16 out of the 50 states.
Features of the law
- Compare States: Sunshine variations
- Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.
Declared legal intention
The statement of purpose of the Washington Public Records Act reads, "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."
What records are covered?
- See also: Defining public records
Washington law defines records as "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics." A Supreme Court ruling has said that accident reports are also public records.
Washington law contains a great number of exemptions, the most important being the exemption of documents that if released constitute an invasion of privacy. Other exemptions can be found at statutes 210-480.
- See also: Deliberative process exemption
Another important exception to all Washington records requests is the deliberative process exemption found under section 42.56.280, which exempts pre-decisional material like opinions and recommendations.
Major deliberative process cases in Washington
- ACLU v. City of Seattle - This case declared that deliberative process exemption was not limited to intra-agency documentation.
What agencies are covered?
- See also: Defining public body
The act applies to all state and local agencies.
In October 2009, the Washington State Supreme Court affirmed in City of Federal Way v. Koenig its 1986 opinion in Nast v. Michels that courts do not fall under the definition of "agency" given in the PRA.
- See also: Legislatures and transparency
The Washington Public Records Act explicitly states that legislative public records include all, "legislative records as defined in RCW 40.14.100 and also means the following: All budget and financial records; personnel leave, travel, and payroll records; records of legislative sessions; reports submitted to the legislature; and any other record designated a public record by any official action of the senate or the house of representatives." The Washington State Supreme Court issued an unclear decision in Cowles Publishing Co. v. Murphy in 1981 with regard to the remainder of the records.
Privatized governmental agencies
The Washington law uses a four part test to determine if a private entity is subject to the public records act. No individual criteria of the test must be met but the parts should be considered as a whole. The test includes:
- Whether or not the agency is funded by a public body.
- Whether or not the agency was created by a public body.
- Whether or not the agency is controlled by a public body.
- Whether or not the agency performs a public function.
- See also: Universities and open records
The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, the law contains a number of exemptions, including:
- Testing and exams at RCW 42.56.250
- Research information at RCW 42.56.270
- Donated documents that request concealment at RCW 42.56.320
Who may request records?
Anyone may request records in the state of Washington.
Must a purpose be stated?
- See also: States requiring a statement of purpose
Washington law does not require a statement of purpose and explicitly states that purpose cannot factor into the rejection of a claim unless provided for explicitly by statute.
How can records be used?
- See also: Record use restrictions
There are no restrictions placed on the use of records.
Time allowed for response
- See also: Request response times by state
Washington allows five days for records responses.
Fees for records
- See also: How much do public records cost?
Washington allows the charging of fees for duplication not to exceed $0.15 per page.
- See also: Sunshine laws and search fees
The fees charged cannot include overhead costs, which include the maintenance of equipment and the labor required to search and copy the records.
Role of the Attorney General
- See also: Role of the Attorney General
Under § 42.56.530 of the Revised Code of Washington, "whenever a state agency concludes that a public record is exempt from disclosure and denies a person opportunity to inspect or copy a public record for that reason, the person may request the attorney general to review the matter. The attorney general shall provide the person with his or her written opinion on whether the record is exempt." This, however, does not in any way constitute an attorney-client relationship.
The Washington Open Public Meetings Act states, "The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly."
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation's request for a copy of documents pertaining to Gov. Gregoire's list of 87 ideas for how to solve the state's budget woes was declined by the governor's office on the grounds of "executive privilege." The Evergreen Freedom Foundation denies that an "executive privilege" exemption exists in Washington's sunshine law and has requested reconsideration.
- See also: Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims
In 1997, prior to a vote in King County on a ballot initiative on whether the county should help fund what became Qwest Field/Seahawk Stadium, Armen Yousoufian requested documents from the county regarding feasibility studies it had performed and which it said supported building the Field. King County could have produced the records within five business days, but took four years. In 2009, the Washington State Supreme Court said that a fine against the county of $124,000 levied by a lower court wasn't enough to punish the county for its foot-dragging, and ordered the lower court to beef up the fine.
In its ruling, the court referred to King County's "grossly negligent noncompliance with the Public Records Act. Under the facts of this case we hold the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a penalty at the low end of the PRA penalty range."
- Washington FOIA procedures
- Washington transparency advocates
- Washington transparency legislation
- Private agency, public dollars-Washington
- Washington Open Public Meetings Act
- Revised Code of Washington public records act
- Revised Code of Washington open meetings act
- Open Government Guide to Washington
- Washington on WikiFOIA
- Washington Attorney General open records ombudsman
- Sunshine returns to D.C., clouds gather in Olympia, News Tribune, January 25, 2009
- Eliminating the public exemptions accountability committee
- Prisoner access to public records
- Bill seeks to halt records 'fishing', Seattle Post Intelligence, February 11, 2009
- Public records request provisions
- Increases maximum per page copying charge
- Defines per page cost for the purpose of copying costs under the public records act
- Use technology to provide public records cheaply, Seattle Times, February 9, 2009
- Creating a committee to study the feasibility of creating a board with public records act and open public meetings act responsibilities
- Regarding public disclosure of records relevant to a controversy to which an agency is a party.
- Removing the ability of agencies to enjoin the examination of a specific public record.
- Regarding local government self-insurance programs and public records.
- Regarding prisoner access to public records.
- Text of HB 1288
- Text of HB 1316
- Text of HB 1317
- HB 1471 History
- Text of HB 1471
- 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
- States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
- Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
- Washington Code 42.56.030
- Washington Code 42.56.010
- Seattle Times, Wash. justices: Accident reports are public record, April 12, 2012
- Washington Code 42.56.050
- Washington Law 42.56.280
- Washington Statute 42.56.010
- Open Government Guide to Washington's law
- Seattle Times, "Will Legislature open its own records?", May 11, 2009
- News Tribune, "Public records law should cover judges", October 22, 2009
- Washington Statute 42.56.010
- Open Government Guide to Washington's law
- Washington Code 42.56.080
- Washington Code 42.56.080
- Washington statute 42.56.520
- Washington Code 42.56.070
- Washington Code 42.56.070
- Revised Code of Washington § 42.56.530
- Revised Code of Washington 42.30.010
- Governor's budget office should release its secret stash of budget ideas, January 15, 2009
- Letter from Evergreen Freedom Foundation to Governor's office requesting copies of budget-saving ideas
- "Washington State Supreme Court Withdraws Yousoufian Opinion", January 15, 2009
- News Tribune, "Supreme Court says judge fined King County too little for giving citizen runaround on records request for Seahawk stadium", January 15, 2009
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