Just two weeks before the end of the legislative session, Washington legislators have introduced a proposal to overturn much of a recent court decision requiring public disclosure of legislative records.
For years, the Legislature took the position that the state Public Records Act (PRA) does not apply to legislative records. A coalition of media outlets recently challenged this assumption in court, however, and, on January 19, a Thurston County district court judge ruled the PRA does indeed apply to lawmakers. The Legislature as an entity has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.
In addition, lawmakers this week introduced Senate Bill 6617 to exempt the legislature from the PRA and set up its own separate set of rules governing what records and communications it must disclose. The measure was not subjected to the normal legislative process involving public hearings, amendment opportunities, and scrutiny. Instead, the public was only offered a chance to comment on the bill at a joint “work session” of the House and Senate which met the day after the bill was publicly introduced.
Freedom Foundation opposes this legislation, which would dramatically limit the Legislature’s obligations to produce records and leave the final determination about whether to disclose requested documents up to legislative committees.
Government is the exercise of power, and it should never operate in secrecy from those who are affected by it. Secrecy in government should be avoided and public confidence in the fairness of governmental processes should be preserved. As the first line of the Washington State Constitution says:
“All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Public disclosure of documents and records has been required of counties, cities and other tax-funded entities for decades. The Legislature’s attempt to overturn a court ruling and create a different standard for itself is difficult to justify.
Citizens adopted the PRA in 1972 with Initiative 276, setting clear expectations for a transparent government. As a member of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, the Freedom Foundation opposes legislation that would prevent Washingtonians from monitoring the activities of their elected representatives in state government.
If you believe the legislature should be open and transparent in the same way that other government entities are, please call the legislative hotline and leave a voicemail for your legislators asking them to oppose SB 6617:1-800-562-6000