Training in the Public Records Act could be a mandate for some elected officials

Staff writerFebruary 25, 2014 

All statewide and local elected officials could soon be required to undergo training in the Public Records Act.

Senate Bill 5964 would require members of the governing body of a public agency to undergo training in Open Public Meetings Act within 90 days of assuming office and complete training every four years for the duration of their tenure. Those in statewide or local elected office would have to go through training in the Public Records Act within 90 days of assuming office and again every four years.

The proposal was heard in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee Tuesday morning. Sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, the bipartisan legislation passed out of the Senate 45-2 on Feb. 18.

Nancy Krier, the assistant attorney general for open government, testified in favor of the legislation during the public hearing. She said the attorney general’s office recently launched an open government website, including 22-minute long video in public records training.

“We’ve had quite a number of hits on training page since we launched on Jan. 14,” Krier said. “People are coming back.”

Bill Will of the Washington Newspapers Publishers Association also supported the legislation Tuesday. Having gone through mitigation for public records disputes, he said that litigation could be avoided if more people were trained in the act.

“80 percent [of litigation is] due to the fact that there was some confusion about public records law,” Will said.

The Attorney General’s Office would be responsible for providing training in public records and records management, and the legislation would allow for remote training.

“It’s great for all kinds of reasons...such as distance learning, cost and accessibility,” Krier said.

While those at the hearing agreed that the legislation is necessary, James McMahon of the Washington Association of County Officials warned that the legislation isn’t a fix-all.

“I hope that you all don’t enact this public records training bill and check that box that you’ve fixed that problem,” McMahon said.

A companion bill, House Bill 2121 passed out of the House Feb. 12. The House version would apply the training to state legislators as well.

Katie Blinn of the office of the Secretary of State said they support records retention training, and asked that the committee amend the Senate bill to mirror the House version.

Senate Bill 5964 is scheduled to be voted on in committee Wednesday. If passed out, it could move to the House floor for a vote.

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