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Attorney General’s open government bill signed into law

Governor Jay Inslee signs the Attorney General request open government legislation. - photo submitted
Governor Jay Inslee signs the Attorney General request open government legislation.
— image credit: photo submitted

Attorney General Bob Ferguson's bill to strengthen Washington state's open government laws by requiring training for public officials was signed into law today by Governor Jay Inslee with strong bipartisan support, according to a press release from the Attorney General's Office.

The law takes effect July 1, 2014.

Ferguson worked with Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, to secure legislative approval of the "Open Government Trainings Act."

"Open government is vital to a free and informed society," Ferguson said in the press release. "This new law will enhance government transparency and ensure that public officials know and understand our state's public disclosure laws."

The law is designed to improve public disclosure practices and reduce lawsuits through mandatory training. A 2012 Auditor's Office study found more than 250 "open government-related issues" among local governments. The report found most violations are the result of insufficient training and knowledge, leading to lawsuits that could have been prevented.

The law will to the following, according to the Attorney General's Office:

* Require local and statewide records officers and elected officials to receive training on the Public Records Act and records retention requirements;

* Require members of governing bodies to receive training on the Open Public Meetings Act — including state and local boards, councils and commissions, as well as local taxing districts such as fire and sewer districts;

* Authorize training to be completed remotely, including online training;

* And confirm that the Attorney General's Office may provide information, technical assistance and training.

The new law applies to elected and appointed members of school boards, library districts, fire protection districts, conservation districts, water districts, flood districts, transportation benefit districts, housing authorities, and hospital districts, as well as city councils and count commissions. The Attorney General's Office estimates approximately 6,000 public officials across Washington state will be required to take training.

A court can increase or decrease a penalty depending on whether the public agency received public records training. This law will protect taxpayer dollars, lead to greater compliance, fewer lawsuits and lower penalties.

The original bill was amended to exclude the law from applying to legislative members.

This was the only 2014 legislative Washington Coalition for Open Government priority to become law.

The Attorney General's Office has launched an online open government training and resource page to assist agencies in complying with the new law. Visit the training page here: http://www.atg.wa.gov/OpenGovernmentTraining.aspx.

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