Legislative Update: Jan. 27, 2019.

Legislative Update: Jan. 27, 2019

Here’s this week’s updated WCOG Bill Status Report. Since last week, 20 more bills have been introduced that have some impact on open government, making a total of 58 now being tracked.

We have significant concerns about HB 1692, and recommend it be OPPOSED. The bill would require withholding of 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. These concerns include the breadth and ambiguity of the definitions, the mischaracterization of RCW 42.56.050 as a standalone “right to privacy” and the assumption that one prong of the two-part “invasion of privacy” test is satisfied by a simple accusation of harassment, the violation of civil rights by deprivation of the ability to access public records based solely on an accusation rather than a conviction, and the penalization of use of lawfully-obtained public records. These are slippery slopes that if allowed to be enacted would result in continuing erosion of access for other reasons in the future based on nothing more than an accusation. We acknowledge that harassment or stalking of public employees is unacceptable, but the existing harassment, stalking, and cyberstalking laws should be used to deal with the circumstances described in the bill rather than depriving citizens of civil rights on the basis of a mere accusation.

We call your attention to HB 1667/SB 5667, “Concerning public records request administration,” which we recommend you SUPPORT. This bill would extend the local government public records technology grant program created in HB 1594 (2017), and also extend the local government consultation programs in the State Archives and the Office of the Attorney General; these are among the “also support” items on WCOG’s Legislative Priorities. The bill also amends and clarifies the public records performance metrics defined in HB 1594 to make it easier to agencies to comply and to avoid collecting redundant or unnecessary data.

We also recommend supporting HB 1537 and HB 1538, which would implement the unanimously recommendations of the Sunshine Committee, which is also one of the “also support” priorities of WCOG.

I’m sure you’ve noticed there are many bills for which we’re indicating “Concerns.” Nearly all of these have to do with the creation of new public records exemptions without specifically referencing the Public Records Act, or without having a reference to them from the Public Records Act – mostly technical issues, not substantive. We are contacting the sponsors of the bills and asking that the appropriate cross-references be added so that it will be clear whether or not the intent is to create a PRA exemption and make it easier to find them in the law.

Here is our complete list of 2019 Legislative Priorities.

— Toby Nixon, President, Washington Coalition for Open Government