I believe that access to public records under he current Washington State Pubic Records Act is both appropriate and necessary for public confidence in government. HB 1128 is, in my opinion, what appears to be an excessive response to a few very egregious situations in which requesters have blatantly abused the rights created by the Public Records Act. I believe that some revisions to the Public Records Act are needed to address these extreme outlier cases, where requestors seem to have abused the present system through the request of significant amounts of information. I feel that HB 1128 is not well thought out nor ready for adoption. As it pertains to the County, I feel that having open and transparent government, which I intend to promote, may resolve some of the need for significant requests to obtain public records.
I fully support open and transparent government. However, a thorough reading of the bill includes many elements that I would support and some, in my opinion, that are ill considered.
In Section 1 for example, in order to get an injunction, the court must make at least one of five possible determinations. Four of the five seem reasonable. Those four are: 1) the records request was made to harass or intimidate the agency or its employees, 2) the request was made to retaliate or punish the agency for an action or actions it took or proposed to take, 3) fulfilling the request would likely threaten the safety of staff, family members of staff or the agency’s facilities, and 4) fulfilling the request would likely aid in a criminal activity. These four relate to requests for information that clearly are not legitimate requests.
What I don’t agree with is if the request puts an undue hardship on the agency. In my opinion ‘undue hardship’ is poorly defined and thus open to wide interpretation. Also, even with the restrictions outlined in Section 2, I think it overly emphasizes employee work burden and associated costs. While I’m always in favor of reducing costs and increasing efficiency, I recognize that the cost to maintain an open and transparent government is worth the price.
I have not studied in detail the implications of House Bill 1128. I believe that citizens have the right to view public records. I have not taken part in promoting or supporting efforts to restrict access to public records. I am, however, concerned about the financial cost of responding to the increased volume of requests.
While I have always supported public access to public records, this issue is also about the costs associated with responding to public records requests. The Washington State laws related to public records requests have created an unfunded state mandate. As a Council Member I have supported the efforts of the Washington State Association of Counties to make changes to these laws in order to address the counties’ cost burdens.
The costs associated with complying with the public records requests laws should be paid by the State or the public records requestors or there should be a vote of the people of San Juan County to authorize that these costs be paid from the County’s general fund or other designated funding source.
I am an advocate of being able to access pubic records. It should be every person’s right to do so. However, I have seen people taking advantage of this right, making overly excessive requests that tie up our county’s resources. Excessive requests need to be fee based.