The 2013 Legislative Session is under way, and Washington’s exemplary Open Records Act is again under attack. Citizens should take note of a proposal that poses a great threat to Washingtonians’ ability to gain access to public records — one that would dangerously undercut transparency in government.
House Bill 1128 would let government agencies limit the number of hours that they devote to responding to public records requests, as long as they make other documents available to the public, such as budgets, agendas and minutes, resolutions and ordinances.
Courts could also decide if fulfilling a records request is “burdensome” as a factor in rejecting a request for public documents.
The bill is sponsored by 26 members of the House, including Rep. Sherry Appleton of the 23rd District, and advanced to a public hearing in the House Committee on Local Government on Friday, Jan. 25.
There is no doubt that the state Open Records Act has been abused on occasion over the years by citizens who have submitted requests for voluminous amounts of documents, and that government employees must spend many hours seeking and supplying documents that are requested by the public.
The Open Records Act, however, should not be amended because of the rare instances where someone who seemingly has an ax to grind against city hall has asked for a pile of public documents, or because of the time it takes to fulfill complex and sometimes extensive requests for records.
The creation, distribution and archiving of public records is a basic responsibility of government and a cost of doing business. Our trust in government is maintained by our ability to look behind the curtain, to see the workings of government beyond agendas and meeting minutes.
Maintaining that trust is more valuable than the slight savings some government agencies might see from this proposed change in the Open Records Act.