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Bill strengthens state’s open government laws
Two newly elected officials favor a bill that was passed to strengthen the state’s open government laws by requiring training for most public officials.
The “Open Government Trainings Act” or Engrossed Senate Bill 5964 by Attorney General Bob Ferguson was passed March 7 by the legislature.
Ferguson worked with Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) and Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle) to secure approval of the bill.
“Open government is vital to a free and informed society,” Ferguson said. “This new law will enhance government transparency and ensure that public officials know and understand our state’s public disclosure laws which were overwhelmingly approved by the voters.”
First-term Port Orchard city councilwoman Bek Ashby attended an Association of Washington Cities (AWC) training class for newly elected officials in December.
“Education and continuing education are important in any professional environment,” said Ashby, adding, “It is appropriate for elected officials.”
Ashby said the AWC offers an excellent menu of classes and she plans to take advantage of additional classes.
“I’m all for it,” said Rebecca Diehl, the newest member on the South Kitsap School District board of directors. “I greatly appreciate education and the benefit it brings. Unbiased support, information, resources and information is extremely valuable.”
The new law is designed to improve public disclosure practices and reduce lawsuits through mandatory training.
A 2012 auditor’s office study found more than 250 “open government-related issues” among local governments. The report found most violations are the result of insufficient training and knowledge, leading to lawsuits that could have been prevented.
When the Act goes into effect July 1, it will address these problems by:
• Requiring local and statewide records officers and elected officials to receive training on the Public Records Act and records retention requirements.
• Requiring members of governing bodies to receive training on the Open Public Meetings Act, including state and local boards, councils and commissions, as well as local taxing districts, such as fire and sewer districts.
• Authorizing training to be completed remotely, including through online training.
• Confirming that the attorney general’s office may provide information, technical assistance and training.
“Washington’s strong open government laws allow people to remain informed about actions that affect everyone,” said Fain. “Ensuring officials know exactly what is expected of them will help many different statewide jurisdictions maintain a high level of transparency. More informed government officials will also greatly reduce potential violations, ultimately saving taxpayers money.”
Support from the Association of Washington Cities and the Washington Coalition for Open Government also was vital to passing the act.
The attorney general’s office has launched an online open government training page to assist agencies in complying with the new law while providing open government training resources.
Visit the training page at www.atg.wa.gov/OpenGovernmentTraining.aspx.