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Public records access altered temporarily by governor

On March 24,  Gov. Jay Inslee’s office walked the tightrope again between public safety and freedom by signing another proclamation to support government agencies all over the state as they work to rein in the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Transparency in state government and all of its political subdivisions is an important state policy, such that all statutes related to open public meetings and public records are the business of the state,” the March 24 proclamation states. “There are a plethora of electronic, telephonic and other options that make it possible for the public to attend open public meetings remotely.”
He waived elements of the Open Records Act that require government agencies to “provide a room” and allow in-person access to documents for review. In that same action, he halted in-person government meetings and limited those meetings to actions that are “necessary and routine matters” as defined by state law, and matters necessary to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
The proclamation is active 30 days from its signing. 
Inslee’s measure also offered specific guidance for government agencies to meet remotely. Some are using the online tool Zoom and teleconferencing to stay socially distant while guarding public access. 
Temporary changes to public access laws extend the deadlines for the release of public documents, a requirement that can, in normal times, trigger lawsuits if agencies fail to provide information in a legally defined time-frame.
All levels of United States government are guided by laws that honor a “right to know” what their government is doing.

 

  

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