After the Freedom Foundation’s pair of wins at the Washington State Supreme Court this fall, it was disheartening that all nine justices decided to “trick” rather than “treat” us on Halloween with a third.
In a frustrating ruling this week, the Washington State Supreme Court held that Initiative 1501 (I-1501) barred the release of records to the Freedom Foundation, even though I-1501 did not take effect until after the Foundation had submitted its public records request.
In November of 2016, the Foundation submitted a public records request to the Department of Early Learning (DEL) to obtain the names, work mailing addresses and work email addresses of all family child care providers in Washington. In response to the Foundation’s request, DEL informed Service Employees International Union Local 925 (SEIU 925) that, absent a court order, DEL would release the requested records to the Foundation by the end of November.
SEIU 925 subsequently filed a lawsuit against DEL and the Foundation, seeking to bar DEL from releasing the records to the Foundation. Shortly after the initiation of the suit, I-1501 was approved by Washington voters.
I-1501 was touted to be a way to protect seniors and vulnerable individuals in Washington from identity theft and financial victimization. In reality, I-1501 was a union funded measure which did not, in any substantial way, improve upon the penalties already in place under state and federal law for identity theft and consumer fraud. Rather, I-1501 changed the state Public Records Act (PRA) to establish that only unions like SEIU 925 could receive lists of family child care providers from the state, thus thwarting the Freedom Foundation’s efforts to inform providers of their right to not pay union dues.
In this week’s decision, the Supreme Court determined the new provision in the PRA applied retroactively to the Freedom Foundation’s request made prior to the enactment of the initiative. This retroactive application of the law prevents the Foundation from ever obtaining the records which it requested before the vote on I-1501. All nine justices agreed that the Foundation was not entitled to those records.
Brian Minnich, the Freedom Foundation’s executive vice president, described the ruling as “a terrible decision by the State Supreme Court and gives our state’s Public Records Act a black eye.” He went on to say that, “I-1501 had nothing to do with protecting identify theft, but everything to do with keeping home healthcare workers and home-based childcare providers in the dark regarding their right to leave SEIU and stop paying dues to the union.”
That’s exactly what the Foundation has always said. Unions will try every “trick” in the book (and some that aren’t) just to prevent public employees from finding out their rights. Unfortunately, this Halloween the Washington State Supreme Court joined in.