Washington governments and agencies will soon be able to charge for providing electronic copies of records in response to public-records requests.
OLYMPIA — Washington governments and public agencies will soon be able to charge for providing electronic copies of records in response to public-records requests.
The new fees are part of a pair of bills signed Tuesday by Gov. Jay Inslee and intended to streamline the pubic-records process for governments.
The two bills make several changes intended to weed out excessively burdensome requests and improve how governments respond.
The result, according to Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, is a way to resolve complaints by government officials without taking an ax to Washington’s transparency laws.
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The compromise effort, vetted by a stakeholder group that included the coalition, “takes the pressure off to do worse things to the Public Records Act, in the name of stopping harassing or abusive requesters,” said Nixon.
“Agencies have been pressing for years to really make it a lot harder to make public-records requests,” he added.
Governments have long bemoaned the costs associated with producing records for the public of things such as government emails, contracts and law-enforcement reports.
A report last August by the state Auditor’s Office found that governments in Washington spent more than $60 million over a 12-month time frame to comply with public-records requests.
HB 1595 allows agencies to charge for providing copies of electronically produced public records. Governments could go through a rule-making process to establish their own cost structures or use a set of default costs, which includes charging up to 10 cents per page that is scanned into an electronic format or 5 cents for every 4 electronic attachments.
The bill also allows some extra service charges for requests considered exceptionally complicated.
It gives governments the authority to deny some automatically generated records requests, such as those created by computer bots. And if someone asks for all of an agency’s public records, the law no longer considers that a valid request.
The other bill, HB 1594, sponsored by Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, puts in place a $1 surcharge on recorded county documents to fund a state grant program to improve local governments’ records-keeping systems.
Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton and sponsor of HB 1595, said the new fees will help smaller governments better handle large records requests.
“When they all the sudden get burdensome requests, I think definitely the requester should share in that cost,” said Nealey, adding that the legislation is “aimed more at vexatious requests.”