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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wash. bill to rein in harassing FOI request may hurt legitimate ones

What's to stop a persistent person with an FOI request from being deemed a harassing one? That's the question concerning many open government advocates, the Seattle Times reports. State officials say some FOI requesters, such as prisoner Allan Parmelee have become nuisances but also on that list is a woman fighting the school district's treatment of her autistic son. One bill could make inspection fees for public records legal in the state, which currently can only charge 15 cents per page if the requester wants copies. Others advocate increasing copying fees and increasing the number of documents made confidential.

Washington's Public Records Act says government documents are available for anyone to scrutinize. From the mayor's e-mails to the governor's travel expenses. All you have to do is ask.

But some people are asking way too much, flooding agencies with costly demands, in some cases just to harass public officials — or at least that's the story being told to the Legislature by cities, school districts, ports and prisons.

They're pushing bills to allow governments to charge higher copying fees, make more documents confidential — even seek court orders to bar requesters' intent in "annoying, tormenting or terrorizing" government workers.

More here.

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