Two bills that sponsors said are intended to reduce abuses and correct problems with the state Public Records Act were signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The legislation will take effect in July, said state Rep. Terry Nealey, who sponsored one of the bills and co-sponsored the second.

In a release, Nealey said work on the legislation brought together “local governments, open government advocates, editorial page editors, the news media and citizens across Washington. These bills will help to reduce costly vexatious requests while improving public access to our state and local public records.”

The first piece of legislation, House Bill 1594, is intended to improve administration of public records requests. The bill was approved in April by the state Senate in a 40-7 vote and in the House by a vote of 80-18.

The second bill, House Bill 1595, concerned costs to agencies for electronically produced associated with responding to public records requests.

Nealey said the bill is also intended to help stop “people with little or no legitimate interest in the records themselves” other than file them in hopes of winning damages if agencies are unable to respond to requests on time. 

“These requests gum up the system, making it harder for governments to timely respond to legitimate requests — effectively shutting the rest of us out. That’s why we’ve long needed reforms to the state’s 45-year-old Public Records Act,” Nealey said.

Nealey said a recent Washington State Auditor’s study showed state and local governments spent more than $60 million in one year to fulfill 285,000 requests — nearly all of which were electronic records requests — and more than $10 million from litigation fees.

Only 1 percent of the costs were recovered from the original law’s fee structure, which allows governments to charge 15 cents per photocopy page of paper records to help recover costs. Nealey said that has left taxpayers to cover the remaining costs.

The bill also was approved in April, with a 43-4 Senate vote and a 80-18 vote in the House.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

Andy Porter has been with the Union-Bulletin since October 2000. His beats include Walla Walla County, city of College Place, Washington State Penitentiary, agriculture, environment as well as a wide range of general assignment topics.