January 8, 2013

By Staff

Use caution in seeking open records changes

Reporters can be pesky — annoying even, particularly when trying to get information out of government entities.

Reporters file requests for information under the state’s open records law more often than Joe Citizen, as they do their job on your behalf. Forgive us if reporters tend to be more sensitive to possible changes to those laws, particularly changes that might dam up the river of information.

Cities across the state are lobbying the Legislature to make changes to open records laws that could make public records — your records — harder to get.

The cause for this latest discussion stems from the city of Gold Bar, a small city facing tremendous fiscal problems. Many put the blame on a few citizens there for filing too many records requests. They say the cost of those requests is bringing down the city.

It is simplistic to say that answering records requests is what did in Gold Bar. While the requests do seem to have a role, other forces were at play.

But now, with the specter of Gold Bar lurking behind lobbying effort, government agencies say that responding to harassing requests creates a large burden on taxpayers and want a way to deny or slow down responses to requests.

It’s the idea of bullying that is the problem. There can be a fine line between a bully on an information treasure hunt or a well-meaning citizen or reporter.

State lawmakers should work with open government advocates when considering changes to be sure they understand the perspective of those who seek information regularly. Maintaining open channels for public information is critical to the functioning of a democractic society.

Legislators should always err of the side of keeping records open and easily accessible. The cost of closing access goes well beyond dollars and cents.

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One Response to “Editorial”

  1. Hiding Public Records on February 23rd, 2013 3:11 pm

    The public should weigh in and oppose farther restrictions on Public Access to Public Documents (Restrictions being added to Public Records Act which can provide loopholes for government agencies and make records requests nearly impossible and very costly for the public)

    There are SEVERAL bills in state legislature that are aiming to restrict public access to the records that are actually public property. They are in direct conflict with Washington state’s public records act (and rationale for the law).

    “[E]very government official and employee should be reminded of the strongly-worded language that was incorporated into the public disclosure act:”

    “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 they have created. The public records subdivision of this chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy”

    If you’ve ever tried to get public records you’ll know that it is already very difficult even though it should be easy to access the records belonging to “the people.” This and other Ordinances, Laws, etc will make it even tougher to get public records. Additionally other legislation at the state level aims to make record requestors pay for records requests “up to the salary of the public employee” even though that public employee is already hired for this job and already being paid. Clearly these things try to make it too hard and too costly for anyone to get the information that already belongs to them.

    Bad bills are HB1128, HB1019, SHB1037, HB1185

    Public should be alerted to send emails to their state representatives (House of Representatives and Senators) to demand that public access to the records belonging to the public not be impeded farther.

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