Moving Backward (As in $0) On Penalties in Washington State…

Wow…talk about backwards momentum.

The Seattle Times reports:

A government agency that improperly withholds public records can now emerge from legal action with no financial penalties.

A bill approved by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday allows courts to award members of the public compensation of between $0 and $100 for every day that a record was improperly kept secret. That lowers the minimum penalty from $5 per day.

More from the Bellingham Herald:

Apparently, an earlier version of HB 1899 changed that to a range of $0 to $500. Thompson testified in favor of that bill, calling it a good compromise. But, unbeknownst to him, the committee had already changed it to $0-$100 and sent the bill out the door.

“I had no idea it had changed,” he said.

Years ago the statute of limitations was changed from five years to one year, so public agencies could be liable for fewer days of wrongly withholding records. As part of that bill, Thompson wanted, but didn’t get, the upper penalty limited increased to $500.

The reality is, he said, adjusting the lower and upper ends won’t really have that big of a difference. Most of the awards are in between, he said, and the upper limit has been used sparingly.

Also, the big dollar figures come from attorneys fees anyway, not penalties, he said. He pointed out that it takes a lot of days at $5 per day to reach one hour for an attorney getting paid $250 an hour (50, to be specific).

The governor is scheduled to take action on the bill today (this morning, actually). He said he expects that she’ll sign it.

Bottom Line: They’d face more consequences for not separating their recycling….


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