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The Public Records Act (PRA) requires that all public records maintained by state and local agencies be made available to all members of the public, with very narrow statutory exemptions.

Chapter 42.56 RCW provides the statutory framework for disclosure of public records, while the Washington State Attorney General’s Model Rules on Public Disclosure (chapter 44-14 WAC) provide practical, non-binding, advisory guidance on many issues that may not be clear in the language of the PRA itself.

State and local government agencies are required by chapter 40.14 RCW to retain records for different lengths of time depending on the content, function, and purpose of the record. The State Agencies Records Retention Schedules and Local Government Records Retention Schedules, approved by the state and local records committees and published by the Washington State Archives (a division of the Office of the Secretary of State), establish the time frames for records retention, archiving and destruction.

Individual agencies do have the option of requesting the state or local records committee approve an agency-specific records retention schedule.

If a public records request is made at a time when the record exists but is scheduled for destruction in the near future pursuant to the records retention schedule, the agency cannot destroy or delete the record until the records request is resolved (RCW 42.56.100).

Criminal penalties can be assessed for the intentional destruction of public records (RCW 40.16.010 and 40.16.020).