Legislative Update: Feb. 3, 2019.

Legislative Update: Feb. 3, 2019

We’re now three weeks into the legislative session. There’s a continual flow of new bills being introduced, including many that impact on government transparency. The attached Bill Status Report shows that we’re now tracking 71 bills, and includes details on what they do and our recommendations to you. Of the new bills introduced this week, the following are most notable:

  • SB 5784 (Link) is this year’s version of last year’s SB 6177 on legislative public records. In some respects it’s a step in the right direction, and at least they plan to put it through the normal legislative process and have an actual public hearing this year. But that said, we still have significant concerns about the bill. For example, rather than simply define the senate, house, legislator offices, and legislative agencies as “agencies” entirely under the PRA, it continues to treat the legislature as separate and distinct from other parts of government with exceptional provisions. It greatly expands the deliberative process exemption in 42.56.280 to permanently eliminate access to records of how legislation came into existence, making it impossible for the public to know what alternatives were considered, why choices were made, and who sought to influence the process. It requires records requests made to the legislature prior to the effect date of the act to be re-submitted under the provisions of the act, and requires all lawsuits made against the legislature for PRA violations to be filed only in Thurston County superior court. Since the legislature is willing to talk this time around, we will be working hard to fix the problems. Opening up access to legislative public records is WCOG’s top legislative priority for 2019. We recommend you OPPOSE the bill unless it is significantly amended to address our concerns and do it the right way.
  • HB 1888 (Link) would exempt public employee birthdates from disclosure, and also exempt from disclosure payroll deducations including their amount and identification. Retaining access to public employee birthdates is essential to matching records across multiple databases to discover such things as sex predators, child molesters, criminals, sexual harassers, misrepresentation of educational records or job experience, etc., and so it is a top priority for WCOG this year. The bill also amends the PRA to require that agencies notify employees and their labor unions when records are requested that contain personal information about the employee, and provide at least 10 days for the employee or union to file for an injunction under 42.56.540 before releasing the records, and so automatically builds in a delay for many requests. We recommend you OPPOSE the bill.
  • HB 1692 (Link) would prohibit agencies from disclosing records “concerning an agency employee who has made a claim of harassment or stalking with the employing agency, if the record is requested by a person alleged in the claim to have harassed or stalked the agency employee and the agency reasonably believes that the alleged act occurred.” The phrase “concerning an agency employee” is very broad and ambiguous and could result it withholding of many records that are not personally about the victim. The bill as introduced is not specific to sexual harassment, and could be used to block requesters who are simply persistent or make multiple requests and end up being deemed “harassing” the agency or an employee. None of us wants workplace sexual harassers to be able to continue their victimizing using records requests for personal information, but the bill is not narrowly focused on that problem. We’re also concerned that someone falsely accused of harassment could be prevented from accessing records necessary to clear their name. We’re working with the bill sponsor to try to fix it, but we must OPPOSE it in its current form. The bill has a hearing scheduled this Tuesday, February 5.
  • HB 1782 (Link) would require meetings of committees created to provide advice or recommendations to public agencies to be open to the public. This is one of WCOG’s top legislative priorities for 2019. WCOG will propose some perfecting amendments to tighten up the language of the bill and cover as many committees and committee actions as possible. A public hearing is scheduled on Tuesday. We urge your SUPPORT.
  • HB 1667/SB 5667 (Link) eliminates the expiration date for the local government public records technology grant program, the attorney general’s local government consultation program, and the state archives training and consultation programcreated in HB 1594 (2017). Also eliminates the expiration date on the $1 document recording fee that funds the aforementioned programs. It makes some minor adjustments and clarifications to the public records performance metrics collected by JLARC. This isone of WCOG’s secondary legislative priorities. We urge your SUPPORT for this one as well.

Here is our complete list of 2019 Legislative priorities.

Please take a look at the WCOG Bill Status Summary Report for an update on all the other bills of interest, including which ones have hearings or executive sessions scheduled for this week. Thanks for contacting your legislators about the ones of concern to you!