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Legislature passes Attorney General’s open government training bill

OLYMPIA — A bill to strengthen Washington state’s open government laws by requiring training for most public officials has passed the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson worked with Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, to secure approval of the “Open Government Trainings Act,” Engrossed Senate Bill 5964.

The law was also sponsored by 23rd District lawmakers Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) and Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo).

“Open government is vital to a free and informed society,” Ferguson said. “This new law will enhance government transparency and ensure that public officials know and understand our state’s public disclosure laws which were overwhelmingly approved by the voters.”

The act is designed to improve public disclosure practices and reduce lawsuits through mandatory training of government officials.

A study conducted by the state Auditor’s Office in 2012 found more than 250 “open government-related issues” among local governments.

The report found most violations are the result of insufficient training and knowledge, leading to lawsuits that could have been prevented.

When the new law becomes effective July 1, 2014, it will address these problems by:

Requiring local and statewide records officers and elected officials to receive training on the Public Records Act and records retention requirements;

Requiring members of governing bodies to receive training on the Open Public Meetings Act — including state and local boards, councils and commissions, as well as local taxing districts such as fire and sewer districts;

Authorizing training to be completed remotely, including through online training; and

Confirming that the Attorney General’s Office may provide information, technical assistance and training.

“Sen. Fain and Rep. Pollet provided critical bipartisan leadership on this important effort to improve transparency,” Ferguson said.

“Washington’s strong open government laws allow people to remain informed about actions that affect everyone,” Fain said. “Ensuring officials know exactly what is expected of them will help many different statewide jurisdictions maintain a high level of transparency. More informed government officials will also greatly reduce potential violations, ultimately saving taxpayers money.”

“Attorney General Ferguson has endeavored for two years to develop this measure,” Pollet added.

“Public officials must always recognize our state’s commitment to open public meetings," he said. "The trust and citizen participation in our local and state governments relies upon public officials maintaining both respect for open meetings and support for the right of citizens to review agency e-mails and other public records.”

Support from the Association of Washington Cities and the Washington Coalition for Open Government was also vital to passing the act, Ferguson said.

The Attorney General’s Office has launched an online open government training page to assist agencies in complying with the new act, providing open government training resources.

 

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