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What Records Are "Public"? 

A public record is any state or local record relating to the conduct of government or the performance of a governmental function, and which is prepared or retained by any state or local agency.

The public record may be in a variety of forms such as writing, a recording, a picture, an electronic disk, a magnetic tape, etc. A local agency can include a city, county, district, or similar governmental subdivision.

What Public Records Are Available for Inspection? 

All public records maintained by state and local agencies are available for public inspection unless law specifically exempts them.

You are entitled to access to public records, under reasonable conditions, and to copies of those records upon paying the costs of making the copy. In most cases, you do not have to explain why you want the records. However, specific information may be necessary to process your request. An agency may require information necessary to establish if disclosure would violate certain provisions of law.


Although free public records searches is possible, it often pays so have a professional firm conduct the search for you. They have the experience, and will save you time. They might also obtain better information since they know where to look.

Exempt Public Records


While the strong policy is for disclosure of public records, state law does allow for some information to be withheld.

Many of the exemptions are designed to protect the privacy rights of other individuals. Other exemptions are designed to protect the investigative functions of law enforcement and other agencies with investigative responsibilities, as well as the legitimate business interests of other citizens. You should refer to the Public Disclosure Act itself for specific exemptions. You may also wish to consult with an agency's records officer.

Just because part of a record may be exempt does not mean the entire record can be withheld. In those cases, the agency has the obligation to black out or otherwise remove the information it believes is exempt from disclosure and provide you the rest.

If you are denied access to a public record, the agency must identify the specific exemption or other law it believes justices its denial and explain how that exemption applies to your request.


Agency Not Required To Create Records


While, in general, an agency must provide access to existing public records in its possession, an agency is not required to collect information or organize data to create a record not existing at the time of the request. The more precisely you can identify the record you seek, the more responsive the agency can be.


How To Request Public Records


A request for public records can be initiated in person, by mail or fax, or over the telephone. You may be able to obtain the addresses and telephone numbers of state agencies in current telephone directories, or the telephone number of an agency by calling the Olympia area information operator at 360-753-5000 or outside Olympia 1-800-321-2808. Each state and local agency is required to provide assistance to citizens in obtaining public records and to explain how the agency's public records process works.

If you request certain public records, the agency must make them available to you for inspection and copying during customary office hours of that agency. You should make your request as specific as you can. A written request helps to identify specific records you wish to inspect. Many agencies have a public records request form they will ask you to use.

After your inspection of records, you may identify those records you desire and, if copying does not disrupt agency operations, copies promptly can be made for you. The agency may enact reasonable rules to protect records from damage or disorganization and to prevent disruption of agency operations.

Each state or local agency is required to establish an index as an aid to locating public records. The index is to be published and made available to those who request it. Source: WA State Web Site



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