Open records bill OK'd by state House

MATT BENOIT MURROW NEWS SERVICEMarch 7, 2014 

OLYMPIA -- A bill requiring public meetings and records training for newly elected officials passed the state House on Friday.

Engrossed Senate Bill 5964 passed the House of Representatives with a 66-31 vote, after passing the Senate in a 45-2 vote last month.

The bill requires all newly elected local and state officials to complete training on the Public Records Act within 90 days of assuming their duties and to complete refresher training every four years while in office.

The bill also requires governing members of public agencies to complete training for requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act, and for public records and record retention officers to complete Public Records Act training.

All are subject to 90-day timelines and four-year refresher courses.

Nancy Krier, assistant attorney general for open government, said training allows public officials to be aware of laws to better comply with them, helping create a culture of compliance and reducing lawsuits related to public records violations.

"We think this is a big, important step for strengthening our open government laws," she said.

Agencies will be able to choose how they train their officials, Krier said.

Options will include online training through the state Attorney General's Office or another organization, but also in-person meetings or orientations involving attorneys or other training personel, she said.

"The bill doesn't restrict who's providing the training," she said. "It doesn't have to just be our office."

The website for the attorney general's office launched a new training page in mid-January, Krier said. The page includes PowerPoints, videos, and other links to other training materials, she added.

But not all think the training is such a good idea.

Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, said he voted against the bill because current risk management training makes additional training repetitive.

"I'm trying to do everything I can, as an elected member of the House of Representatives in Washington state, to quit doubling up on all the requirements people have to go through by state mandates," he said.

Klippert said cities and counties already employ attorneys with expertise in such matters, and those with questions can simply call and ask.

As a law enforcement officer with the Benton County Sheriff's Office, Klippert said he will sometimes call his prosecuting attorney with law questions while working in the field.

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