September 28, 2023, 9:13 pm
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General Information About Washington Public Records and Laws
In Washington, public records information is a given right to the general public, under the Title 42, Chapter 42.56 RCW law in the state, called the Washington State Public Records Act. This law provides information about what is a public record, how to obtain it, how it is maintained and the restrictions for obtaining the information where applicable. The federal laws regarding information such as medical records, student records and privacy laws do supersede any Washington State laws.
What Are Public Records?
In Washington, public records constitute nearly everything produced, maintained, given to or otherwise in the possession of government offices and agencies, as well as in any form, such as in paper text, electronic images and information, recordings and photographs. The state does not list an exhaustive list of the types of records that are available, but it does place some exemptions on these laws for the sake of privacy or other for other needs.
Some types of information remain protected from the viewing of just anyone. This includes the following information.
  • Any information that leads to a violation or invasion of personal privacy
  • Any information that could hinder or jeopardize an open or active investigation
  • Any information that could endanger the safety of the public in general
  • Any information that would obstruct the normal function or the ability to operate of the government
  • Any information that would provide an unfair advantage to another person or business
In addition to this, a judge can seal some court records as a way of preventing sensitive information from being accessed, including adoption records, juvenile records in a court as well as information that could jeopardize a police officer that is working under cover. The only way to open such sealed documents is through a court order to do so.
Obtaining These Public Records
To obtain Washington public records, individuals must first petition the agency holding the information for access to it. Under the laws of the state, this information must be made available in a timely manner, and the agency must be available during normal business hours to provide it. However, there may be limitations. In addition, there may be instances in which a small fee is a requirement to be paid as an administrative fee.
The following are some of the government agencies in Washington that have public records information available to it. This is not an exhaustive list.
  • For business information that is public record, contact the state's Attorney General's Office.
  • For information regarding vital statistics, contact the Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics.
  • Criminal records are available through the Washington State Patrol, Identification and Criminal History Section.
  • For access to the sexual offender registry, contact the Washington State Patrol, SOR division.
  • The court records at the state level are available through the Administrative Office of Courts. Lower courts may have additional information and records.
Individuals who are in need of Washington public records should contact local agencies to access this information or through third parties online.
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