44-14-01002  <<  44-14-01003 >>   44-14-020

Construction and application of act.

The act declares: "The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created." RCW 42.17.251/42.56.030. The act further provides: "…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." RCW 42.17.010(11). The act further provides: "Courts shall take into account the policy of (the act) that free and open examination of public records is in the public interest, even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others." RCW 42.17.340(3)/42.56.550(3).
Because the purpose of the act is to allow people to be informed about governmental decisions (and therefore help keep government accountable) while at the same time being "mindful of the right of individuals to privacy," it should not be used to obtain records containing purely personal information that has absolutely no bearing on the conduct of government.
The act emphasizes three separate times that it must be liberally construed to effect its purpose, which is the disclosure of nonexempt public records. RCW 42.17.010, 42.17.251/42.56.030, 42.17.920.1 The act places the burden on the agency of proving a record is not subject to disclosure or that its estimate of time to provide a full response is "reasonable." RCW 42.17.340 (1) and (2)/42.56.550 (1) and (2). The act also encourages disclosure by awarding a requestor reasonable attorneys fees, costs, and a daily penalty if the agency fails to meet its burden of proving the record is not subject to disclosure or its estimate is not "reasonable." RCW 42.17.340(4)/42.56.550(4).
An additional incentive for disclosure is RCW 42.17.258, which provides: "No public agency, public official, public employee, or custodian shall be liable, nor shall a cause of action exist, for any loss or damage based upon the release of a public record if the public agency, public official, public employee, or custodian acted in good faith in attempting to comply" with the act.
1See King County v. Sheehan, 114 Wn. App. 325, 338, 57 P.3d 307 (2002) (referring to the three legislative intent provisions of the act as "the thrice-repeated legislative mandate that exemptions under the Public Records Act are to be narrowly construed.").
[Statutory Authority: 2005 c 483 § 4, RCW 42.17.348. WSR 06-04-079, § 44-14-01003, filed 1/31/06, effective 3/3/06.]
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