Appleton Explains Vote Against Public Records Restrictions for Inmates

appletonState Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo (left), was one of only two lawmakers to vote against a bill that would restrict prisoners’ public record requests. This fact was pointed out by commenter “Fedup” on this blog yesterday, and made me curious to find out why she stood up against nearly all of her fellow legislators.

First, a quick recap: Senate Bill 5130 aims to give judges the authority to block prisoners’ public records requests if they find they’re for the purposes of harassment. One other lawmaker in both houses voted against it aside from Appleton.

Here was her rationale.

“I voted against the bill because it means that (The Department of Corrections) could or (The Department of Social and Health Services) could turn down requests for documents of prisoners who have legitimate reasons for requesting records,” she wrote on email. “Many prisoners represent themselves, pro se, and this means it will be harder to obtain records.”

“This is a question of justice,” she added.

She believes that in cases of harassing public records requests, those who are victimized in them — be it a law enforcement officer, lawyer, or otherwise — are already protected.

” … The statutes already protect confidential information such as address, phone number and family members,” she wrote. “The problem is that the agencies are not enforcing the tools the have.  Hence my no vote.”

I interviewed State Attorney General Rob McKenna, and he disagreed with such an assessment. He said there’s a group of about 10 inmates who are abusing the power of the public records request. I’ll have more on that in an upcoming story.

First, here’s why McKenna’s office, which wrote the bill, advocated for it, taken from their web site:

  • In 2007, the Department of Corrections (DOC) staff spent 12,494 hours responding to offender records requests – costing taxpayers more than $250,000 and six full-time employees.
  • DOC made roughly 350,000 pages of records available to offenders. Offenders who requested the records paid for fewer than 30 percent of the pages made available.
  • In the first half of 2008, DOC received approximately 4,200 offender requests, roughly double the number received during the same period in 2007. DOC staff spent approximately 8,760 hours responding to these requests, at a cost of more than $180,000.
  • Due to the volume and scope of offender records requests, DOC has had to prioritize the requests, meaning the number of active requests, and the costs associated with responding to the active requests, will continue to grow into the future.

3 thoughts on “Appleton Explains Vote Against Public Records Restrictions for Inmates

  1. Why should a government agency be the final arbiter of defining “harassment,” particularly if the agency itself is the subject of the public records requests?

    I give credit to Appleton on this issue. The actions of the alleged six harassers should not be cause for changing the entire system. There may be unintended consequences of the change.

    The administration of justice is imperfect.

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