Washington lawmakers should kill two bad bills that undermine public records law
Government should be more transparent, not less, The Seattle Times editorial board asserts. Two bills that should be killed are HB 1317, which would keep secret some personal information about law-enforcement officers, and SB 6747, which would permit a state agency to charge exorbitant fees for some information.
WITH so much at stake this year as state officials make decisions affecting citizens, it is disappointing to see two advancing legislative proposals that would make it harder for citizens to keep tabs on their government.
House Bill 1317 would exempt from public disclosure the birth month and year and official photograph of law-enforcement officers.
Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, introduced the bill, ostensibly to protect officers after several attacks in recent months. But the reaction is a non sequitur. None of the attacks was committed by people who sought out specific officers.
On the other hand, the information was key to a Seattle Times investigation into cases of officer-involved domestic violence that were ignored by Tacoma officials. Under the bill, news media would still have access to this information, but citizens would not — an uneasy and unnecessary compromise.
The other bad bill, Senate Bill 6747, would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to charge exorbitant fees to citizens for access to the agency's Natural Heritage Program, which includes a database of species and ecosystems that are a priority for conservation. The costs could be as high as $6,000 for an annual subscription or $100 per request plus a $75/hour charge.
Money throughout state agencies is tight, but charging hefty fees for information intended to be public is an irresponsible solution. If the DNR imposes such fees, expect more agencies to follow suit with public-request-killing fees.
Both bills have passed their state chamber of origin and have hearings scheduled Tuesday in committee. And that is where each should die.
Especially these days, government must be more transparent, not less.