Political Beat

Public records training bill on its way to Inslee

At least one policy group called it a touchdown without an extra point.

In last week’s flurry of legislative activity, Washington lawmakers approved a bill that would require public and elected officials to undergo training on the state’s Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act. A touchdown for open government, according to the Washington Policy Center.

The missed extra point? The bill doesn’t apply to state lawmakers. (The proposal passed easily through both the Senate and House, so we’re not sure whether that’s wide left or wide right. We’ll call it a blocked kick.)

Senate Bill 5964 requires every member of a public agency’s governing body to complete training in the open meetings law within 90 days of assuming their duties. Local and statewide elected officials would also have to complete training on Washington’s public records laws. It also requires record keepers to be trained on records retention. Officials would have to go through a refresher every four years.

Among the bill’s supporters is the state Attorney General’s Office, which already offers an open government training program. Backers noted that better training could save public agencies money if they avoid costly disputes over the release of records. Among public records disputes between reporters and government agencies, 80 percent are caused by confusion or lack of knowledge about the law, according to a bill report.

Though state lawmakers are exempt from the training, that’s far from the only instance in which the Washington Legislature operates under a different sent of rules. Lawmakers’ emails aren’t subject to public disclosure; virtually all other public officials’ emails are. And legislators routinely tally votes and hold key deliberations behind closed doors — a practice that doesn’t fly for a city council, for example.

SB 5964 is also supported by the Secretary of State’s Office, the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Washington Association of Counties.

The bill has been signed by both the Senate president and House speaker, and is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

Eric Florip

I'm the environment/transportation reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Contact me at eric.florip@columbian.com or 360-735-4541.

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