- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The jail-booking photos of anyone charged with a crime by Washington authorities would become public records under a bill that passed a House committee Friday.

In an 8-1 vote, the state House Public Safety Committee advanced a bill by Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, that would require jails to make mug shots accessible to the public, just as inmate names, booking dates and the reason for being in custody already are.

Hayes said his bill was intended to give an increased sense of security to people who have been victimized.

“They simply want to be able to see a photo of the person that made them a victim,” Hayes said. “Under current law, they don’t have that ability.”

Under the Criminal Records Privacy Act, passed in 1977, Washington is one of only a few states nationwide in which jail-booking photos aren’t currently made public. South Dakota is the only other state west of the Mississippi River with a similar restriction, said Rowland Thompson, executive director of the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington.

“We are very much an outlier in the nation in terms of booking photographs” becoming public, Thompson testified before the committee last week.

If the bill becomes law, booking photos would only become public after a person is charged with a crime and arraigned in court, and the release of the mug shot would be delayed if it would cause problems for an ongoing investigation.

Unless a judge rules otherwise, court proceedings - including arraignments - that are open to the public can generally be photographed, under current Washington law.

“The process has become public enough so we know who the person is by that point,” House Public Safety Chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said Friday.

Committee member Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, cast the only vote against recommending the bill. Appleton cited the privacy concerns of people who are able to clear their names in court after they are charged with committing crimes.

“If somebody is found innocent, now their picture is found everywhere, and we have effectively ruined their life after they didn’t do anything wrong,” Appleton said.

Although booking photos are considered public records in the majority of states, a controversy has arisen in recent years over websites that post the photos online and charge a fee to have them removed. Thompson testified that the practice is in the process of being outlawed as a form of extortion. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least nine states have passed laws since 2013 restricting websites that use booking photos for commerce.

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