Writings and observations

First Take: Open (or shut) records

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CLOSING RECORDS This seem to be, in each of the Northwest states and many other states, in ways large and small, an open season on public access to government. A guest op in the Seattle Times by Katherine George of the Washington Coalition for Open Government throws a light on an effort by local governments there – in a state where local governments have been losing a long string of court cases in attempts to keep records in the dark – to change state law to seal off records access. And the limitations it would allow for local governments (cutting back, maybe severely, on the amount of time governments could budget for finding records) isn’t even the worst of it. There’s this: “The same bill would allow either an agency, or anyone named in a record which you have requested, to file a lawsuit against you in order to block your request. A court could block the processing of your request if it finds that you made the request to “harass or intimidate” the agency or that your “records request will materially interfere with the work of the local agency,” whatever that means. Once you are sued, courts could consider why you want records, what requests you have made in the past, and whether a “burdensome number of records” is involved. SHB 1128 would destroy some of the bedrock principles of the Public Records Act, including that a requester’s identity and interests are irrelevant, that inconvenience is not an excuse to hide records, and that an agency can’t conceal a record unless it falls under one of the law’s narrow exemptions. Neighborhood groups, businesses, civic organizations and individual citizens could be dragged into court for being inquisitive.” This measure (Substitute House Bill 1128) is a good candidate for worst bill of the year in Washington – maybe in the whole Northwest.

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