Politics & Government

Legislature OKs new fees for electronic copies of public records

Lacey city manager Scott Pence looks over some of the estimated 80,000 pictures that his staff are pulling to fulfill a public records request for "every photo" in the city archive, shown at Lacey City Hall on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. A bill that cleared the Legislature Monday aims to cut down on those types of “excessive” requests, while establishing new default fees for electronic copies of government documents.
Lacey city manager Scott Pence looks over some of the estimated 80,000 pictures that his staff are pulling to fulfill a public records request for "every photo" in the city archive, shown at Lacey City Hall on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. A bill that cleared the Legislature Monday aims to cut down on those types of “excessive” requests, while establishing new default fees for electronic copies of government documents. toverman@theolympian.com

Government agencies could start charging new fees for electronic copies of records under a bill that cleared Washington’s Legislature on Monday.

The state House voted 80-18 to approve House Bill 1595, agreeing with earlier changes made by the Senate. The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Jay Inslee.

Public agencies can already charge a default rate of up to 15 cents per page for photocopying documents in response to public records requests. But the state’s Public Records Act doesn’t include comparable language for charging fees for documents that are scanned and sent by email, or records that are uploaded to an electronic delivery system.

House Bill 1595 says agencies can charge up to 10 cents per page for scanned documents and up to 5 cents for every four electronic attachments when replying to public records requests.

The bill also lets agencies charge up to 10 cents per gigabyte of data or impose a flat fee of $2 for larger requests.

The measure simultaneously aims to cut down on what government agencies call excessive requests, allowing agencies to deny broad requests for all of their records, as well as some repetitive requests submitted automatically by computer bots.

Supporters of the bill testified this year that the Public Records Act needs updating to reflect the amount of staff time involved in responding to records requests electronically. Opponents said the measure could limit public access to government documents.

A separate measure approved Monday by the Legislature would create new training resources for government agencies that fall under the Public Records Act.

House Bill 1594 directs the state Attorney General’s Office to develop a program to assist local governments in managing public records requests. The bill also requires the State Archives to train local agencies on document retention practices and establish a grant program for those agencies to improve their information technology systems.

Both bills now head to Inslee’s desk.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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