Opinion

Committee meets to review exemptions to Public Records Act

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That, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy and of the desirability of the efficient administration of government, full access to information concerning the conduct of government on every level must be assured as a fundamental and necessary precondition to the sound governance of a free society. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to promote complete disclosure of all information respecting the financing of political campaigns and lobbying, and the financial affairs of elected officials and candidates, and full access to public records so as to assure continuing public confidence of fairness of elections and governmental processes, and so as to assure that the public interest will be fully protected.
Revised Code of Washington

People have the right to know what their government and elected officials are doing and one tool available to them to keep informed is the states Public Record Act which stipulates that full access to information concerning the conduct of government on every level must be assured as a fundamental and necessary precondition to the sound governance of a free society.
Starting with the premise that all information should be public, the Public Records Act also recognizes that there is some information that, for a variety of reasons, should not be made available to the public. When first passed by voters in 1972, the Public Disclosure Act had only 10 exemptions (information that would not be available to the public). That number has grown to nearly 300 exemptions today.
To deal with the ever-burgeoning list of exemptions, Rob McKenna, Attorney General of Washington, requested legislation to create the Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee (aka the Sunshine Committee) to annually review all exemptions, including newly passed ones and to recommend repeal or amendment of exemptions to the Public Records Act. That legislation was approved during the 2007 legislative session and the first meeting of the Sunshine Committee was Aug. 28.
The committee is made up of 15 members of diverse backgrounds. Members include Thomas Carr, Seattle City Attorney; Sen. Adam Kline; Sen. Pam Roach; Rep. Lynn Kessler; Rep. Jay Rodne; Time Ford, Assistant Attorney General; John Hughes, Editor and Publisher of the Daily World; Ken Bunting, Associate Publisher, Seattle P-I; Frank Garred; Roselyn Marcus, Office of Financial Management; Patience Rogge, Friends of Fort Worden; Candy Jackson, N.A.T.I.V.E. Project; and Ramsey Ramerman, Foster Pepper PLCC.
The committee faces a formidable task deciding which of the 300 exemptions are warranted and which may not be. Some of the exemptions are clearly needed while others may be questionable and some could be argued either way. One of the biggest challenges the committee faces will be in ensuring that the publics right to know is kept in the forefront of all of their decisions while fending off the efforts of those special interests who may not want the information in the public domain. By doing so, they will be ensuring that the intent of the law that was passed by voters in 1972 is alive and well today.

STF

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