State AG wants changes to public records rules

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Attorney General Bob Ferguson

— Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a proposed update to the Public Records Act (PRA) Model Rules yesterday to reflect changes in state law and helping the public and agencies navigate changing technology.

 The model rules provide information about the Public Records Act and some suggested best practices.

They are advisory and do not have the force of law, but they can be a useful guide as governments develop their public records policies.

In 2017, the Legislature amended the Act to say local public agencies should consult the model rules when establishing public records ordinances.

 The proposed update to the model rules:

• Confirms that the public is entitled to request public records stored on personal devices if those records concern agency business;

• Provides a model policy for handling requests with greater efficiency and transparency based off policies pioneered by the cities of Kirkland and Pasco; and

• Addresses relevant court rulings and changes to state law made by the Washington State Legislature.

“I am committed to enhancing transparency in government,” Ferguson said. “Open government is vital to a free and informed society. These proposed changes will help the public access the information they are entitled to and help governments process their requests effectively.”

 The Attorney General’s Office last revised the model rules in 2007.

Since then, there have been a number of developments in statutes, case law and technology with respect to public agency records.

The proposed updates look to modernize the model rules and make them a more functional resource for requestors, public agencies, the courts, the Legislature and others navigating the Act.

The proposal addresses the use of personal devices to conduct agency business. For example, the proposed updates explain that public records on personal devices, such as smart phones or home computers, are subject to the Act.

The proposed updates also outline a framework for agencies to assign requests a prioritization category to triage and manage records requests in order to more efficiently respond to requestors.

The proposal will enable, for example, a government agency to handle a simple, urgent request before moving on to a complex, non-urgent request, rather than processing whichever came in first.

This will allow requestors who urgently need easily accessible information to get it more quickly, while the agency still addresses non-urgent and/or complex requests in a timely manner as required by law.

The public may comment on the proposed changes by Sept. 29 through this online form, or by emailing Open Government Ombuds Nancy Krier at NancyK1@atg.wa.gov with the subject line “Model rules.”

 Public comment may also be submitted at an Olympia public hearing on Oct. 4 in the Legislative Building’s Columbia Room from 6 to 8 p.m.



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