On the heels of state lawmakers inventing a fantastical new reinterpretation of the Washington Constitution to avoid complying with the Public Records Act, some senators and representatives want to double down on secrecy. They’ve introduced companion bills that would erect new barriers against the public’s right to know.

According to supporters, the bills (House Bill 1597 and Senate Bill 5571) would merely cut down on frivolous public records requests. As if there is such a thing! Public records belong to the public, and Washingtonians have a right to see them.

The bills would make it harder and more time-consuming for someone to appeal when an agency denies a records request. Before someone could seek judicial review, they’d have to ask the agency for an administrative review. The agency then would have up to a month to say no again.

Only then could the requester seek independent judicial review. But before filing suit, the requester would have to sign a certificate attesting that the request wasn’t for “any improper purpose.”

What’s improper? Apparently, if someone plans to use the records for harassment, delaying government action or “any other frivolous purpose,” whatever that means. Plenty of government officials consider any criticism harassment, and too many state lawmakers seem to think that any records request is frivolous by default. That someone in power deems their reason “frivolous” has no bearing whatsoever.

The bills also would make it harder for requesters to recover their legal expenses if they eventually prevail in court and easier for agencies to evade penalties for wrongly withholding records.


These terrible ideas have bipartisan support, including from Seattle-area lawmakers state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island; Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland; and Rep. Amy Walen, D-Kirkland.

Lawmakers aren’t alone in their disdain for public scrutiny. The Association of Washington Cities’ legislative agenda for the year named the Public Records Act and “abusive” requests as a significant issue.

In 2021, reporting agencies closed out about half of record requests by providing the documents or denying the request in five days or less. That’s a little misleading, though. Telling someone that a document doesn’t exist or that it is exempt is easy to do within five days. When it comes to actually delivering the goods, agencies drag their feet. The average time to fulfill all requests was 20 days. If these bills become law, there will be a lot more foot dragging.

A record is either public or it’s not under clearly defined exemptions. Under these bills, some people shouldn’t be allowed to see it because the government deems their hearts are pure and others not because they plan to make life hard for an elected official, city, county, legislator or state department.

Timeliness matters in public records. When a resident asks for documents, it might be so they can comment on pending government action or inform voters leading up to an election. The longer an agency can delay, the better chance it has to bury uncomfortable facts until they don’t matter anymore.