Government Records Washington: Where to Obtain Government Records for the State of Washington?
To ensure transparency and encourage public participation in government functioning at all levels, the State of Washington has a well-articulated policy on inspection and copyright of public records. The State’s Public Disclosure Act, chapter 42, section 56 mandates a robust statutory policy and mechanism in place for the obtainment of such records. A public record is defined as any written material linking to the conduct of the government, performance of a governmental purpose, and which is prepared, used or retained by any state or local agency.
What Records are Public?
Any citizen has the right to request, inspect and copy public records, with some exemptions. All state and local agencies, except the legislature and the courts, are required to make their records available for the public, except those records that are exempted by the Act. In the majority of the cases, there is no explanation or justification needed for your request, but the authorities may ask you for some information to proceed. The authorities also cannot distinguish among those individuals requesting public records.
The processing office would need it to make sure that they are not violating any law by handing you the record. The entire process is designed to be easy and hassle-free. You cannot be charged for inspecting the records. If you want a copy, the agency will charge you the copying charges.
If the request involves a government record that’s regarded as confidential or exempted from disclosure, the authorities cannot release it. Such exemptions are typically information related to any victims of crime, investigative information, personal information, employment information, intra-agency communication, real estate appraisals, to mention a few. While making a request, one needs to confirm whether the subject falls under the exempted list, and if the request is turned down, the agency is required to explain why they cannot release the information.
How to Request Records?
One can make the request through mail, email, fax, over the telephone or in person. While making the request, the most important thing to be kept in mind is to make it as focused as possible. The Public Disclosure Act doesn’t require a citizen to submit the request in any standard uniform way, but some agencies have their forms. If there is no form involved, it helps to give the request in writing, with specific questions about the information you seek. They can also ask you for further information to bring clarity to your request.
The various agencies in Washington are required to process your request in a time-bound manner. They have to reply to your request within five business days in any one of the following three ways:
- They have to provide you with the record
- They have to acknowledge the request and give you a time frame within which they will be able to give you the requested information
- They have to explicitly deny your request for the record
In case your request is denied, the responding agency must provide you with a legal reason for the decision because it’s the agency’s responsibility to prove that the record that you requested is exempt. If you don’t agree with the agency’s decision, there are three options available to you. You can approach Washington State’s Open Government Ombudsman to help you.
You can also approach the courts to enforce your request. As a third option, you can also request the state’s attorney general to evaluate the agency’s decision. You have to send your request for review, with the initial request for public record. Once they process your request, the attorney general is required to give you a written reply, stating their opinion.
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