The Attorney General’s Office Local Government Public Records Consultation Program was created by the 2017 Washington State Legislature, effective July 23, 2017. Section 5, Chap. 303, 2017 Laws (Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1594). It amended the Public Records Act at RCW 42.56.570 at subsection (5). Here is more information about the program:
1. Why did the Legislature enact this new law in 2017 requiring the Attorney General to establish a local government records consultation program?
For several years, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has provided information, technical assistance and training about the Public Records Act (PRA). RCW 42.56.155. The AGO also provides a PRA pamphlet and advisory PRA Model Rules. RCW 42.56.570(1) – (3).
The 2017 State Legislature revised many public records laws as part of an update of public records laws generally. Section 5 of Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1594 (amending RCW 42.56.570) added a new requirement for the AGO to assist local government agencies for developing best practices in complying with the PRA.
2. What is the purpose of the consultation program?
To provide information and assistance to local government agencies in developing PRA best practices, including but not limited to:
- Responding to records requests;
- Seeking additional public and private resources for developing and updating technology information services; and
- Mitigating liability and costs of compliance.
3. When will the consultation program begin and when will it end?
The program is operational and accepting requests for services from local government agencies. The program will end on June 30, 2020, unless extended by the State Legislature.
4. Who can request an AGO consultation?
Local government agencies.
5. What qualifies as a local government agency?
Any 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).
6. What services will the AGO provide in this consultation program?
Telephone, email, and in-person consultation services and materials for developing best practices including but not limited to: responding to records requests, seeking additional public and private resources for developing and updating technology information services, and mitigating liability and costs of compliance. The AGO is also developing a web page to provide more information on consultation services. It is available here: Local Government Public Records Consultation
7. What steps does a local government agency need to take to participate in the consultation program?
The agency needs to contact the AGO. Contact information is at the end of this Q & A or you can submit a request by clicking here.
8. Will the AGO charge a local government agency for this consultation service?
No. The consultation program is funded through a new surcharge applied to documents filed with a county. RCW 36.22.175(4).
9. Does the AGO or the AGO consultant serve as a local government agency’s attorney with respect to the consultation services?
No. The AGO is not a local government agency’s attorney, cannot provide legal advice or represent the local government agency in court. The agency will still need to consult with the agency’s attorney if it needs legal advice or legal assistance.
10. How does a local government agency know what type of consultation it will need?
The AGO will work with a local government to determine if telephone, email, or an in-person consultation best fits the agency’s needs. The AGO will work with the local agency to determine what topics should be covered.
11. What staff at the AGO will provide the consultations?
The AGO currently has an attorney assigned to perform the consultations. The AGO anticipates adding additional staff resources to the program as needs increase. Staff assigned to a particular consultation will depend upon the nature of the consultation.
12. What happens after a local government agency has received a consultation from the AGO? When the consultation is limited, such as a brief telephone conversation or email exchange, the AGO does not anticipate additional activity. For longer, more in-depth local government agency consultations, the agency will be required to submit a completed survey soon after the consultation. Completing the survey is a required condition to participate in the consultation program and is necessary in order to comply with reporting required by the legislature on the effectiveness of the program.
The AGO will compile data into a report for submission to the Joint Legislature Audit Review Committee (JLARC). JLARC will report the information to the Washington State Legislature. This is required because RCW 40.14.026 (3) and (7) provide:
(3) The joint legislative audit and review committee must conduct a review of the attorney general's consultation program …. The review must include:
(a)(i) Information on the number of local governments served, the types of consultation and training provided, and the implementation of any practices adopted from the attorney general's consultation program …’ and
(ii) The effectiveness of the consultation program …;
(7) By December 1, 2019, the joint legislative audit and review committee must report to the legislature on its findings from the review, including recommendations on whether the … attorney general's consultation program … should continue or be allowed to expire.
13. What is the difference between an AGO consultation and AGO training?
Under a different part of the PRA, the AGO can also provide PRA training information. RCW 42.56.155. The AGO has an Open Government Training Web Page with training resources including online training. The Assistant Attorney General for Open Government is the contact for PRA training. Depending upon the circumstances, a local agency may receive both a consultation and training.
14. What if a local government agency wants a consultation relating to records retention?
The agency should contact the Washington Secretary of State - State Archives for a records retention consultation. Information on the State Archives program is available here: Washington State Archives - Records Management.
Whom can we contact for more information?
Information about the AGO’s Local Government Public Records Consultation Program is available at the Local Government Public Records Consultation Program web page, or you can contact staff directly:
Assistant Attorney General for
Local Government Public Records Consultation
Telephone: (360) 570-3418
Information about the AGO’s Open Government Training program is available at the Open Government Training webpage or you can contact staff directly:
Assistant Attorney General for Open Government
Telephone: (360) 586-7842