By Pat Jenkins
State law now allows local governments and public agencies such as Pierce County and the Town of Eatonville to charge citizens for electronic copies of documents.
Governor Jay Inslee last week signed legislation that allows a maximum fee of 10 cents per page for scanned documents and up to 5 cents for every four electronic attachments requested through formal public records requests. Agencies can also charge a maximum of10 cents per gigabyte of data or impose a flat fee of $2 for larger requests.
Previously, public agencies could charge 15 cents per page for photocopies of hardcopy documents. But state law didn’t allow comparable fees for documents or records that are scanned and sent by e-mail or uploaded electronically.
The new, expanded law (House Bill 1595) takes effect in July. It was passed by the state Senate and the House of Representatives on votes of 43-4 and 75-22, respectively. Legislators from south Pierce County who voted in favor of the law include Sen. Randi Becker and Rep. Andrew Barkis. Their fellow Second District lawmaker, Rep. J.T. Wilcox, voted against it.
In addition to making photocopies or digital copies for a fee, local governments make many records available for online viewing. For instance, the Town of Eatonville's website has Town Council-approved ordinances dating to 2006, and Pierce County posts a large amount of legislation and other official records of its various departments and agencies.
People who don't want to view records online or can't get copies of them that way can view them, at no charge, in government offices during normal business hours.
For records that aren't online, the county and Eatonville have public-records request forms that citizens can fill out to specify what they want. Within five days after a request is filed, Pierce County either:
• Makes the record available for inspection and copying or provides in writing an estimate of when the records will be available.
• Asks for clarification of the request if officials aren't sure what's wanted.
• Denies the request, in whole or partly.
The town also pledges to respond to a records request within five days "unless otherwise notified." And it requires persons requesting records to pay for any copying by town emplooyees.
Pierce County has been charging 15 cents per page for hardcopies, the maximum permitted under state law.