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Friday, January 30, 2009

New Bill to Put PDC in Charge of PRA and OPMA

HB 1784 - Expanding the authority of the public disclosure commission to include the open public meetings act and the open public records act. Go to documents...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama Openness Pledge To Be Tested By Bailout Records

This story from Bloomberg describes a records request for some bailout records which is now pending before the Obama administration.

Of all the things the public should be able to know about, it would be how billions (or trillions) of dollars of our money is being spent.

Armen Yousoufian: Million Dollar Man?

This piece from the Seattle Weekly looks at the penalty Armen Yousoufian might get from King County for its violations of the Public Records Act.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Sunshine Returns to D.C., Clouds Gather in Olympia"

This is not a weather report. It is a Tacoma News-Tribune editorial discussing the different open-government climates in DC and Olympia.

"Open Government Under Attack In Olympia, Again"

This Bellingham Herald editorial says it all.

HB 1676 Recording Executive Sessions Bill

Here is the Attorney General's and State Auditor's compromise bill on recording executive sessions:

HB 1676 - Changing open public meetings act provisions. Go to documents...

FEMA Still Processing 2005 Records Request

Good ol' FEMA is still processing a New Orleans reporter's 2005 public records request.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Sunshine Committee Double Cross?"

... is the title of this blog posting from Kim Bradford at the Tacoma News-Tribune.

A Second Bill to Eliminate Sunshine Committee ... Kind Of

In addition to SB 5119, the bill addressing solely the Sunshine Committee, a second bill, HB 1497, would eliminate all 470 state boards and commissions. Specifically, section 201(78) of HB 1497 would eliminate the Sunshine Committee.

Tip of the hat to Ramsey Ramerman of the "Axis Law Group" (Foster Pepper) for alerting og-blog to this one.

Olympian Editorial on Yousoufian Penalty Ruling

The Olympia writes this comprehensive editorial on the Yousoufian case and how large penalties deter Public Records Act abuses.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Columbia Basin Herald Editorial on Sunshine Death Bill

The Columbia Basin (Moses Lake) Herald writes this fantastic editorial on the bill to eliminate the Sunshine Committee.

UPDATED: Pres. Obama Issues Open-Gov't Executive Order

President Obama is making open government and transparency a priority. We hope he keeps these commitments. No offense to him, but we've been burned by politicians (in both parties).

UPDATE: Here is a Seattle Times editorial on the topic.

President Bush was horrible on transparency so hopefully President Obama will be better. However, we are cognizant of the ins and the outs often having different perspectives on openness depending on whether they are in power or out of it. Now that the "ins" and "outs" have switched places, maybe positions will too. Who knows.

Public Records Bills Introduced (part 3)

This one is actually an Open Public Meetings Act bill.

HB 1552 - Regarding public access at open public meetings. Go to documents...

P.S. All of these updates come from Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center. We will not mention him in each posting, but just know that he is the one supplying this information to us.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More Public Records Bills Introduced

Thanks to Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center for alerting us to this new bill:

  • HB 1471 - Removing the public records exemption for certain records addressing public sector collective bargaining. Go to documents...

Public Records Bills in Senate

Here is a story from The Olympian about the various public records bills heard in the Senate this week.

The (Longview) Daily News Editorializes on the Sunshine Death Bill

The (Longview) Daily News writes this editorial on the bill to kill the Sunshine Committee.

Supreme Court Decides Another Case In Favor of Open Gov't

The state Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in RHA v. City of Des Moines today. The case involved the one-year statute of limitations for a Public Records Act case and what it takes to start the clock ticking. The Supreme Court ruled that an agency must do all the things required to claim an exemption from disclosure--that is, provide a withholding index--before the clock starts ticking.

Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of the state's newspaper associations. He also drafted the Attorney General's Model Rules for Public Records, which were cited and quoted by the court in its decision.

The newest justice on the court, Justice Deborah Stephens, wrote the opinion. EFF posts this blog entry on the newest justice and open government.

Justice Stephens was appointed about a year ago by Gov. Gregoire. This blog has been critical of Gov. Gregoire's open-government track record. However, in all fairness, the Governor made an outstanding decision to appoint Justice Stephens.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Callaghan Piece on Yousoufian Penalties Decision

Peter Callaghan at the Tacoma News-Tribune writes this great piece on the recent state Supreme Court decision in Yousoufian, which ruled on the proper amount of penalties against an agency in a Public Records Act case.

UPDATED 2: Bill Introduced to Kill Sunshine Committee

Sam Taylor at the Bellingham Herald posts this on SB 5119, a bill to eliminate the Sunshine Committee.

Here is the post from the Washington Policy Center detailing the matter.

UPDATE 1: Here is a posting from Joe Copeland at the P-I on the matter.

UPDATE 2: The Tri-City Herald has this story on the bill. It quotes Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group.

Public Records Show ... Details of Starving Boy Case

KING 5 TV finally obtained emails from DSHS detailing the facts in a case of a little boy apparently starved by his father.

Says KING 5: "The e-mails were written by a high ranking official at the Department of Social and Health Services. The administrator admits the public wasn't given the whole truth about what really happened to that little boy."

Next time you hear that public records requestors are just harassing agencies, think of this.

HB1017: Study to Create Open Gov't Panel

Here is the testimony on HB 1017 (starts at 4:44).

Thanks to Jason Mercier at Washington Policy Center for this.

Monday, January 19, 2009

New Public Record Act Bills Introduced Recently

This comes from Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center.
  • SB 5249 - Changing public records request provisions. Go to documents...
  • SB 5250 - Increasing the maximum per page copying charge under the public records act. Go to documents...
  • SB 5251 - Defining per page cost for the purpose of copying costs under the public records act. Go to documents...
  • HB 1316 - Providing a court procedure to enjoin the production of public records the court deems were made for the purpose of harassment. Go to documents...
  • HB 1317 - Regarding the disclosure of public records containing information used to locate or identify employees of criminal justice agencies. Go to documents...
  • HB 1288 - Exempting the annual parental declaration of intent to home school from the public disclosure act. Go to documents...

Wenatchee World Editorial on Yousoufian Penalty Ruling

This Wenatchee World editorial looks at the state Supreme Court's recent Yousoufian decision on the proper amount of penalties for Public Records Act violations. The question was whether a $15 per day penalty was appropriate when King County had lied and delayed for years.

The Supreme Court held that $15 was not enough because it would not deter King County. As Justice Sanders put it, "A flea bite does little to deter an elephant."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Governor Won't Release List of Budget Savings Ideas

EFF reports that the Governor is claiming "executive privilege" to prevent the disclosure of some budget saving ideas presented to her by the state Office of Financial Management.

Ways to cut spending are top secret? Wouldn't these ideas be things the Governor would want to get out into the public and see what we think? Aren't the people in charge and the Governor works for us? Isn't the budget our money? Why can't we know what's being planned for our money?

Yousoufian Ruling From Supreme Court

The Washington Supreme Court issued its long-awaited Yousoufian ruling. The court said a $15 per day penalty was not enough and issued 7 factors for a lower penalty and 9 factors for a higher one.

A good day for open government.

Here is the Seattle Times story on the decision and EFF's take on the case.

Tacoma News-Tribune Editorial on Taping and Prisoner Bills

The TNT editorializes on two pending open-government bills.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seattle Time Editorial on Open-Gov't Panel (HB 1017)

The Times writes this editorial on the bill, HB 1017, to study the creation of an open-government panel where citizens (and agencies) could have cases resolved cheaply instead of going to court.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

So Many Posts Lately ... What's Up?

For the past few months, open-government news in Washington state has been a little sparse. Plus, Allied Law Group had been busy suing government agencies.

But now the legislative session is gearing up. And there's plenty to talk about.

So if you haven't been checking og-blog regularly because there hasn't been much new, that'll change from about now until the end of the legislative session.

New Public Records Act Bills Filed Today

Thanks to Jason Mercier at Washington Policy Center, here is a list of the latest Public Records Act bills:

· HB 1105 Publ records/agency is party
· HB 1106 Agency enjoining record exam
· HB 1107 Local govt self-insurance

Kessler to Propose "Tamed" Executive Session Recording Bill

The (Aberdeen) Daily World reports on House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler's (D) proposal to pass at least a first start to a recording bill.

Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial on Open Gov't Legislation This Session

This fabulous editorial from the Yakima Herald-Republic outlines the issues in this year's open-government legislation. A must-read.

Monday, January 12, 2009

House Bill 1017: Open-Gov't Panel

You will be hearing a lot about House Bill 1017 on og-blog in the coming months. This is the legislative proposal to create a baby step (a feasibility study) about creating a panel to decide open-government issues, which would save citizens the expense of attorneys fees.

Here is a link to HB 1017.

Here is a posting about HB 1017 by Seattle Times editorial writer Kate Riley.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

McKenna Unveils Open Gov't Legislative Proposals

This Tri-City Herald story describes Attorney General Rob McKenna's (R) open-government legislative proposals, which are supported by State Auditor Brian Sonntag (D). Among them are:
  • mandatory Open Public Meetings Act training for local government officials,
  • recording of executive sessions after a finding of a previous intentional violation (a compromise from last year), and
  • prohibiting "abusive" public records requests from inmates.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

UPDATED II: Smoking Gun: Olympia City Council Emailing Each Other During "Open" Meetings

UPDATE II: The Olympian writes this editorial about the meeting-by-email issue.


An open public meeting is supposed to be ... open and public. What if the usual discussion and deliberation of a city council meeting were not done in the meeting, where the public can see what's going on, but rather via real-time emails between city council members? What if, for example, this private email exchange between council members went on during a public meeting:

"Are you comfortable if I make a motion removing the Kramer property from the moratorium area, and I think I can get (Councilman) Craig (Ottavelli) to second. And, do you support that? We haven't had a chance to talk, but I am ready to do that."

That would violate the Open Public Meetings Act. A "discussion" or "deliberation" of council business must be conducted in an open meeting. (Unless an exception applies allowing an executive session; no one is claiming any of this could have been done in an executive session.) Obviously, while the meeting is going on, the public cannot access the emails between the council members so the email discussions and deliberations are not "open" to the "public." That was the conclusion of the Attorney General's Open Government Ombudsman, Tim Ford. The city council is ignoring his conclusion. (However, the mayor, to his credit, is supporting the AG Ombudsman's conclusion.)

Here is the amazing story about all this from The Olympian. If you care about open government, read this story.

Note this comment from a city council member who thinks this practice is just fine: "I think it's entirely up to each council member how they conduct themselves." Really? Council members get to unilaterally choose how to conduct city business in public meetings? Then why was the Open Public Meetings Act passed? Is this law "optional"? Perhaps the citizens of Olympia, in response to a law requiring them to pay taxes to the city, could say "It's entirely up to each person how they conduct themselves."

UPDATE: The Tacoma News Tribune unleashes this scorcher of an editorial on the Olympia deliberation-by-email case.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Spokesman-Review Editorial on Public Records Panel

A bill will be introduced to study the feasibility of a panel to decide public records cases, which would be less expensive and time-consuming for requestors and agencies alike.

The Spokesman-Review editorializes in favor of the bill. The editorial is reprinted below.

In Washington state, citizens who request public records are sometimes turned down, even when the law is on their side. Their only recourse, going to court, can be expensive, time-consuming and daunting.

So they can either shrug and drop the matter, or initiate legal action and accept the financial burdens that implies – for an uncertain outcome.

Having the law on your side doesn’t mean a lot if you don’t have the resources to set the law in motion.

That’s embarrassing in the state that helped pioneer open-government movements when they were taking off in the 1970s. Some other states, which ultimately followed Washington’s lead by adopting open-records and open-meetings laws, have gone a step further. They have established separate commissions that deal administratively with alleged violations of their sunshine laws.
In Texas, the state attorney general’s office deals with such appeals and issues binding decisions. Connecticut and New Jersey have state commissions that examine complaints and take enforcement action. In these and other places, citizens can expect a process that costs less than hiring a lawyer and paying filing fees and other legal expenses. That and they can get faster answers.

That, at least, is one of the perceptions of people who have talked about a similar structure in Washington. Those perceptions could be tested under a bill that will go before the 2009 legislative session when it convenes Jan. 12 in Olympia.

It’s a nondescript measure, setting up a 13-member state committee to conduct a study of such an agency for this state. The panel would take a look at what’s going on in other states and hear from stakeholders and other citizens here in Washington. By Nov. 15, it would be expected to make its recommendations to the Legislature, the governor, the state auditor and the attorney general.

It’s a modest and thoroughly reasonable proposal, and it has bipartisan backing in the Washington House of Representatives to go along with the support of Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic Auditor Brian Sonntag.

Self-government requires open government. Meetings and records that are part of the public process must be accessible to the public. That is fundamental to the political accountability that gives government its legitimacy.

Traditionally, members of the public have seen that truth more clearly than those under scrutiny. Public officials who withhold legitimate information create a troubling situation for citizens whose personal resources are no match for the public resources at the disposal of recalcitrant agencies.

Launching an earnest inquiry into other states’ experience is a plausible step, and it could lead to a more citizen-friendly process in Washington. That’s an outcome every Washingtonian should want.