In Washington State, Attempts to Curtail FOI “Fishing” Sound Awfully Fishy

Faced with tightening budgets, cities and other public agencies across Washington are begging the state Legislature to grant them relief from a seemingly unlikely culprit: the state Public Records Act.

Government lobbyists are making the rounds in Olympia with horror stories about civic gadflies who repeatedly file massive requests for documents — devouring time and money better spent on police, sidewalks or other services.

The Association of Washington Cities has made changing the records law a top legislative priority this year. The group is pushing bills that would allow governments to charge records requesters for personnel costs and reduce or eliminate penalties in public-records lawsuits.

The effort has alarmed public-records watchdogs, who say the governments are exaggerating a small problem — and proposing solutions that would encourage stonewalling of legitimate inquiries by citizens and the media…

One proposal before lawmakers would make it more expensive or slower to obtain large batches of records. HB 1300 would allow agencies to begin charging personnel costs for requests that take more than five hours of staff time in a month to process. (If a requester refuses to pay, the bill would allow the agency to limit time spent on the request to five hours a month.)



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