Legislative Report: Open Government Bills to Watch.

Legislative Report: Open Government Bills to Watch

Two of WCOG’s three “high priority” bills are still alive in the 2017 regular session of the Washington State Legislature.

Two bills that came out of a “stakeholder group” that included legislators, agencies and others interested in access laws (including WCOG) survived the March 29 cutoff, “by which bills must be voted out of committee in the opposite house or be considered dead for this session,” says Toby Nixon, WCOG president, who is tracking relevant legislation. He has testified at several hearings and urges friends of open government to contact their legislators about relevant bills.

On WCOG’s radar are:

ESHB 1594
This legislation provides for additional training, consultation, and technology grants to help agencies improve their performance in responding to public records requests, and also studies the possibility of creating a statewide online portal for submitting and tracking public records requests. After WCOG’s suggested amendments were accepted, we changed WCOG’s position on the bill to Support. The portion of the bill WCOG opposed, having to do with mediation, was also opposed by agencies and was removed from the bill. This bill passed out of the Senate Committee on State Government on March 29; the Senate Ways & Means Committee voted a recommended “do pass” on April 3 and referred the bill to the Senate Rules Committee.

“With the [mediation] amendments, I think this is a fine bill,” Nixon said. He notes that it would expand the ombuds office, which WCOG supports, and that WCOG has been urging the state to study the feasibility of an online portal for years. The new services, grants and study would be financed by an additional $1 fee on document recording costs, and that is scheduled to sunset pending a review in 2020.

EHB 1595
This bill provides for default charges for copies of electronic records (such as a scanning charge of up to 10 cents per page, same as paper copies), along with many other provisions – including one stating that a “request for all records is not valid” so agencies can reject sweeping requests for every record, and can reject requests generated using bots.

Many of the amendments WCOG requested to the bill were accepted, notably a section that allowed a $2 flat fee per request. “This has now been amended to allow the flat fee to be charged only when the estimated charges for copies would clearly be greater than $2, so that the flat fee will not become a minimum fee for all requests,” Nixon said. Requestors can still avoid any processing fees by viewing the records in person, Nixon noted. With that amendment, WCOG’s position changed from “Concerns” to “Neutral.” The bill was approved by the Senate Committee on State Government on March 29 and remains in the Senate Rules Committee for second reading.

“The next cutoff date is April 12, when bills must pass off the floor of the opposite house or be considered dead unless they are deemed necessary to implement the budget,” Nixon said.

He and other WCOG representatives testified regarding these bills before the Senate State Government Committee on March 15, supporting HB1160 and HB1594 as amended in the House, and reiterated concerns with HB1595. Nixon says State Government Committee Chair Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) asked for WCOG’s specific proposals for further improvements to HB1595.

Of the 43 bills on WCOG’s watch list at the beginning of the session, 15 have died and 28 moved from the house of origin to the other house by the necessary deadline. Of the WCOG’s high priority bills, three did not progress and are now dead for this session. One, SHB 1160, failed to meet the March 29 deadline for moving out of committee. It was introduced with the unanimous recommendations of the Sunshine Committee from last year, including updates to various PRA exemptions. WCOG supported all of these changes.

Another bill (SSB 5545) was supported by WCOG; it would require public agency union collective bargaining sessions to be open to the public. WCOG opposed SB 5584, which would allow the process of selecting public university presidents to be conducted entirely in secret.

The regular session is scheduled to end April 23, but a special session is likely to follow. However, not all the pending legislation will be carried into a special session.

Return to the April 2017 Newsletter