Public Records Act
- Statutes and Model Rules
- Reference Sources
- Related MRSC Pages
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; the date on the cover of the publication does not reflect the ongoing, subsequent updates. 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.
- 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. You can download the publication and print it out if you find a paper copy useful. MRSC will update this publication electronically on a frequent basis.
- Selected Cases and Research References - Appendix A to Public Records Act for Washington Cities, Counties and Special Purpose Districts. (), MRSC, Report No. 61 Revised, November 2009. [Appendix A is periodically updated in this online version.]
- Exemption and Prohibition Statutes Not Listed in Chapter 42.56 RCW - Appendix C to PPublic Records Act for Washington Cities, Counties and Special Purpose Districts (), MRSC, Report No. 61 Revised, November 2009. If you notice any errors or omissions from the list, please contact MRSC legal consultant Jim Doherty.
- The Attorney General's Open Government Internet Deskbook, Chapter One, provides excellent guidance in determining what is a public record.
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- 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.
- Open Government Advisor - 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
- 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.
- Significant Washington appellate court case decisions dealing with public disclosure issues decided since March, 1996.
- 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.
Local Government Documents
- Municipal Code Ch. 2.26 - Public Records
- Bellevue Records and Information Management Program(), updated 6/26/07
- Bellingham - Public Disclosure Guidelines ()
- Bothell - Resolution No. 1173 () appointing 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 - Ordinance No. 2551 () adopts new regulations governing the disclosure of public records, passed 03/02/2009
- 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 ( )
Articles and Miscellaneous
- 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 6/4/02. (Laws of 2002, Chapter 335, effective 6/13/02).
- Open Government Internet Manual, prepared with the oversight of the Attorney General's Office (and some help from Bob Meinig, MRSC Legal Consultant). This is an excellent overview of both subject areas. The Deskbook is an excellent resource for local government officials and attorneys.
- Public Records: A Balancing Act for Cities (), Association of Washington Cities, December 2010
- Records Retention Schedules, see Records Management - Local Government - Washington State Archives and Records Management