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SubjectsLegal › Public Records Act
Updated 10/2013

Public Records Act

Contents

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.

About the Public Records Act

Background

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)

Definition

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.

Exemptions

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.

Further Reading

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 .

Statutes and Model Rules

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.

Reference Sources

MRSC Training Presentations

MRSC Publications and Webpages

Other Reference Sources

Local Government Documents

Staff Reports, Articles and Retention Schedules

Need more information?

Feel free to Ask MRSC. Washington cities, counties, and our contract partners can call or email MRSC for more information and advice - free of charge.