Public Records Act
- About the Public Records Act
- Statutes and Model Rules
- Reference Sources
- Local Government Documents
- Staff Reports, Articles and Retention Schedules
- Related MRSC Pages
MRSC has partnered with the State Auditor's Local Government Performance Center to develop practical guidance and tools for local agencies on the PRA and the OPMA. Our new Practice Tips and Checklist sheets provide key information at-a-glance to help you more effectively comply with open government laws. Click here to download all of our tools today.
In 1972 the voters in state of Washington adopted Initiative 276, which requires that most records maintained by state, county, city governments, and all special purpose districts be made available to members of the public. The public disclosure statutes have been frequently revised over the past three decades. In 2006 these disclosure statutes were removed from Ch. 42.17 RCW and recodified in Ch. 42.56 RCW. The statutes are now referred to as the Public Records Act (PRA). Although the public records disclosure statutes do not apply to judicial records (case files), the legislature has specifically extended their coverage to state legislative records. In addition, the public records disclosure statutes apply equally to "every county, city, town, municipal corporation, quasi-municipal corporation, or special purpose district or any office, department, division, bureau, board, commission, or agency thereof, or other local public agency." RCW 42.56.010(1)
The definition of what is a "public record" is quite broad - RCW 42.56.010(3). The definition of "writing" is also broad - RCW 42.56.010(4). Papers, photos, maps, videos, and electronic records are all covered by the Public Records Act.
All local government records are available for review by the public, unless they are specifically exempted or prohibited from disclosure by the state statutes. A listing of the primary exemptions are found at RCW 42.56.230 through RCW 42.56.480. Numerous other exemptions and disclosure prohibitions are sprinkled throughout the state statutes. Appendix C of our publication lists exemption and prohibition statutes that are located in RCW chapters other than Ch. 42.56 RCW.
Because the public records disclosure statutes are sometimes difficult to interpret and are often a source of litigation, MRSC has prepared a publication which reviews the relevant statutes, exemptions and prohibitions to disclosure, and procedures to be followed when handling a request for disclosure. The link at the end of this paragraph is to our online version of the publication. We routinely update this online publication, including the research materials in the appendices. See Public Records Act for Washington Cities, Counties and Special Purpose Districts ().
Ch. 42.56 RCW is known as the Public Records Act. That chapter of the state statutes contains many of the primary disclosure exemptions and provides the basic procedures required for disclosure of public records by all local government agencies in the state.
The Attorney General's office has issued the Model Rules for public records disclosure compliance. They are now part of the Washington Administrative Code. The Model Rules are advisory only, but they provide practical guidance on many issues that are not clear in the statutes.
MRSC Training Presentations
- The PRA and Adequate Search Seeking Best Practices (), WAPA Spring 2012 Conference training session, presented by Joe Levan, 04/27/2012 - Presentation slides
- Public Records: Tackling the Tough Questions (Including Use of Smart Phones and Other Thorny Issues), recorded webinar co-presented by MRSC attorney Joe Levan and Scott Sackett, Electronic Records Management Consultant for the Washington State Archives, 11/13/2012
MRSC Publications and Webpages
- Agency Obligations: A Starting Point (), MRSC and State Auditor's Local Government Performance Center - The Public Records Act (PRA) establishes basic procedural requirements that each agency must adopt. Use this checklist as a start for PRA compliance.
- Public Records Act for Washington Cities, Counties and Special Purpose Districts () - This MRSC publication contains several appendices, including recodification tables, research notes useful for attorneys, and reprints of the Model Rules for disclosure and the WAC regulations concerning preservation of electronic records. MRSC updates this publication electronically on a frequent basis.
- Selected Cases and Research References - Appendix A ()
- Exemption and Prohibition Statutes Not Listed in Chapter 42.56 RCW - Appendix C () - If you notice any errors or omissions from the list, please contact MRSC legal consultant Jim Doherty.
- Public Records Disclosure Caselaw Update, MRSC - Significant Washington appellate court case decisions dealing with public disclosure issues decided since March 1996
- Open Government Advisor, MRSC - A series of short articles dealing with Public Records Act (PRA) issues, often recent court decisions that provide guidance on how cities should handle public records disclosure request
- Frequently Asked Questions, MRSC Inquiries
Other Reference Sources
- Washington Coalition for Open Government - This nonprofit organization pushes for maximum openness in all aspects of state and local government.
- How to Obtain Public Records Guide - This webpage provides information helpful to citizens wanting information about how to obtain records from specific local government agencies.
- Public Officials and Public Records - Records Management Online: Public Officials and Public Records, Washington State Archives and Records Management - An interactive online resource intended to introduce newly elected and newly appointed public officials to the new world of public records and their new responsibilities
- Washington Association of Public Records Officers - A non-profit corporation founded to provide education on the Public Records Act to public disclosure practitioners and to provide a forum for public records officers and those involved in responding to public records requests to discuss issues associated with the Act.
- Bellingham Public Disclosure Guidelines ()
- Bothell Resolution No. 1173 () - Appoints the city clerk as the public records officer of the city, passed 07/18/2005
- Bremerton Public Records Act Rules ()
- Clyde Hill Request for Access to Public Records ()
- Des Moines
- Edmonds Public Records Disclosure Request Form ()
- Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 1.28 - Public Records
- An Approach to Responding to Public Records Requests (), presented by Robin S. Jenkinson, Kirkland City Attorney, WSAMA 2013 Fall Conference (posted with the permission of Robin S. Jenkinson) - An overview of the Kirkland policy outlining the reasons for adopting this approach, the legal authority authorizing adoption, and outlining the key provisions
- Resolution No. R-4987 () - Adopts Public Records Act rules, issues a formal order that maintaining an index would be unduly burdensome, appoints the city clerk as the public records officer, passed 07/16/2013
- Public Records Act Rules (), R-4987 Attachment - The specific guidelines and procedures for processing public records requests in Kirkland
- Ordinance No. 4414 () - Adds Ch. 3.15, Access to Public Records; establishes the city process for responding to requests, the amount of resources to allocate to PRA responses, and a records request queue maintained on the city's website, passed 07/16/2013
- Maple Valley Ordinance No. O-12-486() - Amends Ch. 2.50, Disclosure of Public Records. This ordinance incorporates the statutory PRA procedural changes and WAC recommended practices as of 2012
- Skagit County
- Snohomish County Code Ch. 2.51 () - Public Records Disclosure
- Union Gap Public Records Act Disclosure Policy (), 06/27/2011
- Attorney General Memo on WAC 434-662 - Preservation of Electronic Records (), Memo opinion from Office of the Attorney General, dated April 28, 2009 - Opinion on application of WAC 434-662 to local governments
- Performance Audit Report: Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities (), Report No. 1000011, Washington State Auditor, May 2008
- Memorandum regarding 2002 legislation related to Public Disclosure, Terrorism and Domestic Preparedness (), by Assistant Attorney General Nancy Krier, dated 06/04/2002 (Laws of 2002, Chapter 335, effective 06/13/2002)
- Public Records: A Balancing Act for Cities (), Association of Washington Cities, 12/2010
- Records Retention Schedules, Washington State Archives and Records Management