Council to reconsider support of HB 1128

The Maple Valley City Council will reconsider their support of House Bill 1128 at the March 25 Council meeting.

The Maple Valley City Council will reconsider their support of House Bill 1128 at the March 25 Council meeting.

The bill relates to the public records act and would allow government agencies to seek court injunctions to block public records requests under some circumstances. According to the language in the bill, those circumstances include requests that were, “made to harass or intimidate the local agency or its employees…will materially interfere with the work of the local agency…likely threaten the safety or security of any person named in the record or likely assist criminal activity.”

Other factors outlined in the bill that the court would be allowed to consider would include other records requests by the requestor, the type of records, the purpose for the request, the volume of records requested, the agency’s effort to accommodate the request, the impact of disclosure and the deterrence of criminal activity.

The bill also specifies that if an injunction is sought, the requestor must have the chance to respond and be notified of any hearing dates. Before a request for an injunction is filed the agency must give the requestor a chance to revise their request, and the agency must continue to fulfill the request until an injunction is granted.

Cases that are found to be “frivolous” or “in bad faith” by the court can result in the court awarding attorney’s fees up to $15,000 to the requestor.

The bill also specifies that the new act would not apply to the media.

“Requests made by news media for the inspection or copying of any public record may not be enjoined under this section,” the bill reads.

The bill is being supported by the Association of Washington Cities, a nonprofit that represents Washington cities and towns in the state legislature, of which Maple Valley is a member.

The bill was discussed in the House Local Government Committee on Jan. 25. The committee expressed concerns about some of the vague language in the bill and also heard testimony from representatives of various agencies who cited examples of vague and excessive records requests.

One example that is often cited when the bill is discussed is the city of Gold Bar which considered unincorporation last year due to the high costs of public records requests.

“What it (the bill) is supposed to do is to protect from the erroneous requests,” Maple Valley Mayor Bill Allison said. “It’s simply there to protect the city.”

The Maple Valley City Council decided at its meeting March 11 to revisit the city’s support of HB 1128 at its March 25 meeting after receiving comments from the public and the issue being raised by council members Layne Barnes and Linda Johnson.

“I think there are other ways to deal with it other than that particular bill that is too over-reaching,” Barnes said at the March 11 meeting.

According to information provided by the Maple Valley city clerk, there were 150 records requests filed through the city clerk in 2012.

“We all have the right to request information from a government organization,” Councilman Sean Kelly said in a phone interview on March 4. “It is a little vague but I think that should be in there, some kind of limit. I agree with council member Johnson, we need to discuss it more.”

At the March 11 meeting Johnson was in favor of continuing the discussion and amending the current law rather than having a new piece of legislation.

“It needs refinement, but I’m supportive of it,” Allison said. “I’m supportive of the heart of 1128.”

Reach Katherine Smith or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.