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This Month:

 

Ask MRSC is a monthly e-newsletter featuring responses to selected inquiries received by the consultant staff of the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. Please feel free to forward this e-mail to your colleagues. If this e-mail was forwarded to you, get your own copy - free!

 

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What provisions address vacancies of hospital district commissioners?

 

 

RCW 70.44.045 provides that a vacancy in the office of public hospital district commissioner shall occur as provided in chapter 42.12 RCW or by nonattendance at commission meetings for sixty (60) days, unless excused by the commission. RCW 70.44.045 also provides that vacancies shall be filled as provided in chapter 42.12 RCW. Note that RCW 42.12.010(5) provides that a conviction of a felony is a cause for vacancy.

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Can newly elected hospital district commissioners be required to have a background check and sign a confidentiality agreement?

 

 

We have opined with respect to a city that it would be acceptable to require a background check for a councilmember-elect because conviction of a felony could disqualify a person from office, as long as the information presented to the council consists only of felony conviction information. Under RCW 42.04.020, a person cannot qualify for or hold any elective public office unless he/she is a citizen and an elector in the jurisdiction at issue. Article VI, Section 3, of the state constitution provides:

All persons convicted of infamous crime unless restored to their civil rights and all persons while they are judicially declared mentally incompetent are excluded from the elective franchise.

Note that a person's civil rights can be restored after conviction of a felony, including restoration of the right to vote and run for elective office. See, e.g., RCW 29A.08.520, and chapters 9.92, 9.94A, 9.96, and 10.64 RCW.

Based on these provisions, as well as Medicare and other requirements applicable to public hospital districts (see below), there is a legal basis for a public hospital district to conduct a background check on newly elected commissioners.

Regarding confidentiality agreements, there are requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) that provide specific protections for health care information and records. There are also protections in Washington state law. See, e.g., chapter 70.02 RCW. For example, RCW 70.02.005 states the legislature's concern for the patient's interests in privacy and emphasizes the importance of health care providers in assuring that health care information is not disclosed improperly and in having clear and certain rules for disclosure of such information. Additionally, RCW 42.23.070 prohibits a municipal officer from disclosing confidential information gained by reason of the officer's position and from otherwise using such information for the officer's personal gain or benefit. To the extent a confidentiality agreement is required under HIPAA and state law, a public hospital district board commissioner must comply.

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Is there a state law that prohibits a hospital from placing a parent in a supervisory role over their adult child?

 

 

No, there is no state anti-nepotism law as such that would prohibit a hospital from assigning a parent who is an administrator to supervise the work done by their adult child. This does not involve a physician relationship and the child is an adult so there is no financial conflict of interest in this situation.

In this case, the hospital itself has an anti-nepotism provision in their personnel policies. This type of provision is one that may be added locally and the hospital must follow its own policies even though the policies are not mandated by state law. The hospital may amend its local policies however to allow this situation if this is the desired policy.

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May a hospital district postpone work on a contract after the bid has been awarded?

 

 

Yes, if the bid laws have all been properly followed and the contractor is willing to complete the project on the same terms at the same price at a later date. In this case, both parties agree that, due to the current weather conditions, it would be better to wait until spring to begin work on the project.

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What is the law regarding overbroad public disclosure requests?

 

 

The idea that a public disclosure request can be overbroad was established in case law, though it was tempered subsequently in the Public Disclosure Act (PDA). (Note that the Public Disclosure Act under chapter chapter 42.17 RCW has been recodified as the Public Records Act under chapter 42.56 RCW.) In Hangartner v. City of Seattle, 151 Wn.2d 439, 448 (2005), the state supreme court held as follows:

We agree with the Court of Appeals that a government agency need not comply with an overbroad request. We reach that determination because if a requesting party could meet the PDA's requirement of identifying the desired documents by requesting all of an agency's documents, the identification requirement would be essentially meaningless. We will not interpret a statute in a manner that leads to an absurd result. State v. J.P., 149 Wn.2d 444, 450, 69 P.3d 318 (2003). The PDA was enacted to allow the public access to government documents once agencies are allowed the opportunity to determine if the requested documents are exempt from disclosure; it was not enacted to facilitate unbridled searches of an agency's property. We hold, therefore, as did the Court of Appeals in Wood, that a proper request under the PDA must identify with reasonable clarity those documents that are desired, and a party cannot satisfy this requirement by simply requesting all of an agency's documents.

In response to the Hangartner decision, the legislature in 2005 amended RCW 42.56.080 by adding that "Agencies shall not deny a request for identifiable public records solely on the basis that the request is overbroad." The state attorney general's office, in its "Model Rules for Public Disclosure," is a bit more helpful; WAC 44-14-04002(3) states:

An agency cannot "deny a request for identifiable public records based solely on the basis that the request is overbroad." RCW 42.17.270/42.56.080. However, if such a request is not for identifiable records or otherwise is not proper, the request can still be denied. When confronted with a request that is unclear, an agency should seek clarification.

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Is there an online resource that spells out the Washington State and federal labor law posting requirements for employee information boards and that provides access to those posters?

 

 

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) web page on Workplace Posters lists all of the posters that are required by state law. There is no charge for the posters and many, if not all, can be downloaded. Along with the state required posters, L&I's web site also links to required and recommended posters from other government agencies, which can also be downloaded at no cost.

Since the posters can be obtained at no cost to a hospital district, it makes sense to post them at as many locations as is reasonably necessary to make sure that all hospital district employees are informed of their state and federal rights as employees.

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