Mar 26

Brian Augenthaler

Governor suspends certain requirements of the PRA

by Brian Augenthaler

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced new measures to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, including suspending certain statutory requirements in the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA) for the next 30 days.

The OPMA requires public meetings have facilities made available for people to attend. Waving this requirement works to prevent the gathering of people to further curb the spread of the virus. However, governing bodies may only address “necessary and routine matters” as defined in RCW 42.30.020, or matters necessary to address the COVID-19 outbreak, for the 30 days the proclamation is active.

The PRA mandates public access to agency facilities to review and copy public records. Many state agencies are closed due to the governor’s emergency proclamation mandating non-essential businesses close or begin teleworking, closing agency facilities that would make it difficult to respond to requests in the five-day deadline. Under this order, the requirement for agencies to respond to or acknowledge all records requested in the PRA mandated timeframe is waived. However, agencies are still expected to continue to respond promptly and to the greatest and fullest extent possible.

Here is the relevant text of the proclamation:

FURTHERMORE, based on the above noted situation and under the provisions of RCW 43.06.220(2)(g), I find that RCW 42.56, as applied to all public agencies statewide involves the conduct of state business and I also find that strict compliance with the following statutory and regulatory obligations or limitations will prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action for coping with the COVID-19 State of Emergency in responding to public records requests by bringing people in contact with one another at a time when the virus is rapidly spreading, and that the language of each statutory provision specified below is hereby waived and suspended as provided herein until midnight on April 23, 2020:

• RCW 42.56.080(2), as to the following words only:

• “Agency facilities shall be made available to any person for the copying of public records except when and to the extent that this would unreasonably disrupt the operations of the agency.”

• “in person during an agency's normal office hours, or”

• RCW 42.56.090, as to the first sentence only

              [Public records shall be available for inspection and copying during the customary office hours of the agency]

• RCW 42.56.100, as to the following word only in the first sentence: “full”

              [to provide full public access to public records]

• RCW 42.56.520(1), as to the following words only in the second sentence: “Within five business days of receiving a public records request,” [an agency must respond in one of the ways provided in this subsection (1)]

Here is a link to the full proclamation:

https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/proclamations/20-28%20-%20COVID-19%20Open%20Govt%20Laws%20Waivers%20%28tmp%29.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

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