ESB 6617

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.


Synopsis as Enacted

Brief Description: Concerning records disclosure obligations of the legislative branch.

Sponsors: Senators Nelson and Schoesler.

Background: The PRA. The PRA, enacted in 1972 as part of Initiative 276, requires that all state and local government agencies make all public records available for public inspection and copying unless certain statutory exemptions apply. Over 500 specific references in the PRA or other statutes remove certain information from application of the PRA, provide exceptions to the public disclosure and copying of certain information, or designate certain information as confidential. The provisions requiring public records disclosure must be interpreted liberally while the exemptions are interpreted narrowly to effectuate the general policy favoring disclosure.

PRA Definitions. For purposes of the PRA, agency means all state and local agencies, which includes every state office, department, division, bureau, board, commission, or other state agency. In January 2018, the Thurston County Superior Court held, on a case pending appeal, that the offices of individual state legislators are state offices, and thus agencies, for the purposes of PRA interpretation, subject to the PRA's disclosure requirements. The court also held that the Legislature itself and its chambers, administered by the Secretary of the Senate (Secretary) and the Chief Clerk of the House (Chief Clerk), were not agencies under the PRA.

In 1995, for materials in the possession of the Secretary and the Chief Clerk, public records were defined to mean legislative records and:

Legislative Agencies. In addition to the two legislative chambers, there are a number of legislative agencies providing various functions under legislative oversight: the Statute Law Committee, the Legislative Ethics Board, the Joint Transportation Committee, the Redistricting Commission, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, the Select Committee on Pension Policy, the Joint Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program, the Joint Legislative Systems Administrative Committee, and the office of Legislative Support Services.

Summary: Application of the PRA to the Legislature. The PRA does not apply to the state Legislature, its houses, members, employees, and agencies. The Legislature’s records disclosure duties are established in a new chapter in the Revised Code of Washington. Conforming amendments are made to the PRA to reflect these changes.

Legislative Public Records Disclosure Duty. The Secretary and the Chief Clerk are designated as the public records officers for each respective chamber, and are jointly the public records officers for joint committees and all legislative agencies. All legislative public records must be made available for public inspection and copying unless an exemption applies. The Secretary and Chief Clerk must publish procedures for requesting legislative public records prominently on legislative websites, including contact information for the Secretary and Chief Clerk.

The Secretary and Chief Clerk must establish procedures to retain and preserve legislative public records consistent with their archiving duties.

Legislative Public Records Subject to Disclosure. The following items are defined as legislative public records:

Exemptions From Disclosure Requirements. The following types of legislative public records are exempt from the requirement to be made available for public inspection and copying:

Responding to Records Requests. Requests must be for identifiable records. A request for all or substantially all records of the legislature, its houses, members, employees, or agencies, is not a valid request. Legislative public records officers must, within five day of receiving a legislative public records request, respond in one of five ways:

Requests must be responded to promptly, considering time, resources, and staff constraints of legislative sessions and a part-time citizen legislature. The legislative public records officers may not seek information about the purpose of a request except to determine whether the request is for commercial purposes.

Requests may be denied if made to intimidate or harass a legislator or employee, fulfillment would threaten legislative, member, employee, or family member security or safety, or fulfillment may assist criminal activity. A legislative public records officer may deny multiple automatically generated (bot) requests that come from the same source within a 24-hour period if the requests cause excessive interference with the other essential functions of the Legislature. Denials must be accompanied by a statement of the reason for the denial.

Fees. The Legislature may charge the following fees for copies of records, and may waive or reduce fees pursuant to consistently applied policy:

Review of Denial of Records. A person whose request was denied may seek review of the denial within one month. Denials by the Secretary may be reviewed by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, while denials by the Chief Clerk may be reviewed by the House Executive Rules Committee. A request denied jointly by the Secretary and Chief Clerk may be reviewed by both committees. The review is final, and not subject to appeal in any venue. Both committees must meet at least quarterly to issue decisions.

Retroactivity. The bill is retroactive, applying to all records requests and lawsuits under the PRA as of the effective date of the act.

Votes on Final Passage: