New law targets inmates who harass with records requests
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Friday a bill aimed at keeping prisoners from harassing government agencies and employees with public-records requests.
Seattle Times staff reporter
OLYMPIA — Allan Parmelee is the kind of guy lawmakers were thinking of when they passed a bill aimed at keeping prisoners from harassing government agencies and employees with public-records requests.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the legislation into law Friday, just hours after it passed the Senate unanimously. It goes into effect immediately.
Attorney General Rob McKenna and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg say that Parmelee, who's serving time for firebombing two lawyers' cars, has tied up their staff with requests that range from the bizarre to the impossible.
He's asked the prosecutor's office for surveillance video of cars parked in its courthouse garage, for photos of its employees and for the personnel files of anyone who has been involved in his case, Satterberg said.
In one five-month period in 2005, he made 788 records requests to the Department of Corrections (DOC).
Under the bill, a court could block an inmate from requesting certain records if a judge finds that the request is intended to harass an agency or its employees, or that fulfilling the request would threaten security or assist in criminal activity.
According to the Attorney General's Office, corrections staff spent 12,494 hours responding to offender records requests in 2007.
For the first half of 2008, DOC received about 4,200 offender requests, roughly double the number received during the same period in 2007. DOC staff spent about 8,760 hours responding to these requests, at a cost of more than $180,000.
Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, spoke against the bill before it was approved by the House earlier in the week. She worried that the measure would bar people from obtaining vital records they need to represent themselves in court.
Satterberg emphasized that the law will not keep inmates from getting important documents.
"It will give us an avenue for relief against inmates who abuse the Public Records Act to harass us or in the hopes that we trip up so they can collect money," Satterberg said.
People making records requests can seek fines against an agency that doesn't comply with the Public Records Act.
Jennifer Sullivan: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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