Last Friday, February 22, was the first major deadline for legislation to stay under consideration in the Washington State Legislature this session. Bills had to pass out of policy committees by 5 p.m. (except for bills in the House fiscal committees and Senate Ways & Means and Transportation committees where the deadline is March 1).

The following bills are still alive following last Friday’s deadline. Some have been modified, while some remain in their original form.  The next important date for legislation is March 13, 2013, the last day for bills to be considered in their house of origin (full legislative calendar here).

SHB 1198: Training of Public Officials and Public Record Officers
This bill would require the Attorney General to develop and implement training programs for the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act and requires members of governing bodies and elected officials (within 90 days of taking oath) and public records officers (at regular intervals) to complete the training courses.

Continue Reading 2013 Olympia Legislative Update – Open Government Bills Still Alive

California may become the first state requiring government agencies to deliver electronically searchable materials in response to public records requests, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.  The current draft of the bill mandates disclosures in "open format" whenever available, meaning "the data or the text in the document is machine readable and can be searched, indexed, organized, categorized, and is otherwise automatically processable."

The State Senate passed SB 1002 by a 35-0 vote back in May; the Assembly Appropriations Committee takes up the bill tomorrow. 

The Washington State Senate has passed Substitute Senate Bill 5553, which requires that most public agencies owning and maintaining a website post certain information, including agendas, legislation and minutes.

SSB 5553 adds a new section to chapter 42.30 RCW, the Open Public Meetings Act. The text of SSB 5553 is available here.

While the goal of SSB 5553 is admirable, many public agencies have expressed serious concerns, including uncertainty about the finality of legislation, inability to amend legislation at regular meetings and the specter of personal liability for members of governing boards.

The State House of Representatives Committee on State Government and Tribal Affairs has scheduled a public hearing on SSB 5553 for 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 24.

For more information about the provisions of SSB 5553 and some of the concerns raised, click here.
 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument on April 28, 2010 in the case of Doe v. Reed [Sam Reed, Washington State’s Secretary of State].  As we have previously blogged, the case addresses whether public release of referendum petition signatories under Washington’s Public Records Act violates First Amendment rights.  The justices sharply questioned the plaintiff’s attorney, who sought to prevent release of the names of people who signed a referendum petition to require a public vote to overturn Washington’s “everything but marriage act.”  A Seattle Times article on the oral arguments including a public transcript is available here

Tomorrow (April 28, 2010), the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case of Doe v. Reed – addressing the question of whether the release of the names of referendum petition signatories pursuant to Washington’s Public Records Act violates First Amendment rights.

The case involves the attempt to seek release of the names of people who signed a referendum petition to require a public vote to overturn the legislature’s enactment of Washington’s “everything but marriage act.”  The Secretary of State was poised to release the names, when a group named “Protect Marriage Washington” and two individual signatories to the referendum petition (John Doe #1 and #2) sought a preliminary injunction in Federal District Court to stop the release.  The District enjoined the release finding that it would impinge on First Amendment rights.  The Ninth Circuit heard expedited review of that ruling and reversed the decision on October 15, 2009 – before the election. Doe v. Reed, 586 F.3d 671 (9th Cir. 2009).  Four days later, however, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the Ninth Circuit ruling, reinstated the District Court’s preliminary injunction and accepted review. Doe v. Reed, No. 09-559.

The Washington Attorney General  will argue the case tomorrow on behalf of the State’s Secretary of State,  and urge the Supreme Court to affirm the Ninth Circuit ruling.  The State’s position is that when people sign a referendum petition to substitute their view for that of the Governor and Legislature, they are engaging in a public legislative process and have no expectation of privacy when they sign such a referendum petition. 

In order to preserve taxpayer resources the legislature has revised the Public Records Act, Chapter 42.56 RCW, to allow agencies to refer records requesters to documents available on its website.  Under current law, an agency that receives a public records request must respond within five days by either (1) providing the requested records, (2) denying the request, or (3) providing the requester with a reasonable time estimate for fulfilling his or her request. Effective June 10, SB 6367 provides agencies with a fourth option.  If the record is available on the agency website, then the agency may provide a link to the specific records requested.  However, if the requester notifies the agency the agency that he or she cannot access the records via the internet, then the agency must provide copies to the requester or allow the requester to view copies using an agency computer.   A copy of the session law can be found here.

The Washington Attorney General has called for legislation to create an administrative board to manage disputes over Public Record Act claims. The legislation is not likely to be considered until 2011. In an op-ed piece in Crosscut, AG Rob McKenna noted during "Sunshine Week" that this would save substantial costs when compared with the current process of litigation.

The First Annual “Open Government Year in Review 2008-2009” is now available for download.  The Year in Review collects articles on case developments and other open government issues during the last year.  Below is a partial list of articles.   Download your copy here.

Open Government Year in Review 2008-2009 partial table of contents:

Continue Reading Open Government Year in Review 2008-2009

Update May 31, 2009

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Memorandum For Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies provides a nice summary of what the presumption of openness means.  The Attorney General identifies three ingredients:

1. Only assert an exemption if nondisclosure serves the exemption’s public purpose.

2. When possible, redact exempt information rather than withhold an entire document.

3. Never assert an exemption merely to hide mistakes or because of abstract concerns.

Continue Reading The Presumption of Openness

Update 5/21

Here’s a good editorial from the Longview Daily News.  Thanks to the Og-Blog for pointing it out.

Original Post 5/15

As noted in this article from the Spokesman Review, the Sunshine Committee voted on Tuesday, May 12 to delay any vote on the Public Records Act “exemption” that makes most records of state legislators exempt from the PRA.  The article quotes Ramsey Ramerman, the editor of this blog and member of the Sunshine Committee.

Here are more details from the Washington Policy Blog.  And here’s a post from the Open Records blog giving the issue some national attention.

The vote was influenced by several factors, including that only 8 of the 13 members were present; and, a concern that some legislative records may have constitutional protections. The matter will be on the Committee’s July agenda.

Here are two earlier blog posts on this subject:

Sunshine Committee considers clearing the clouds over the capitol

How the Legislature has exempted itself from the Public Records Act