As the Seattle Times front page story (2-24-18) noted, I was the prime sponsor of the bill that would have put the Legislature fully under our Public Records Act, and I led opposition to the ironically undemocratic process used to adopt SB 6617 without hearings. Since I was first elected, I have tried to move the Legislature to end its exemption from disclosing almost all records under the Public Records Act.
Last June, when the news media submitted its public records request for legislators’ calendars and schedules, I was the first (of just 3) legislators to voluntarily disclose my emails and calendar so reporters could view and report on who sought to meet and influence us. In many cases I am the only legislator to give people the records they ask for. I will continue to do so.
Indeed, I believe so strongly in the public’s right to know what your elected representatives say and do, I have continued to voluntarily disclose records to people associated with Nazi or “alt right” activists who submitted public disclosure requests for my emails and other records. It’s offensive, but I have been the leading champion in Olympia to apply the Public Records Act to the Legislature.
In my floor speech on 6617 (click here to watch – cue to 14:00 in) I spoke about why it is so important for you and all our constituents to know who your legislators meet with and what lobbyists ask, and how legislators respond.
At the start of this session, I introduced a bill, HB 2886, which was praised by the news media, to bring legislative records into the sunlight under the Public Records Act.
When I introduced HB 2886, I said that you deserve to know who influences your legislators, which requires disclosure of who your representatives meet with.
You deserve to know what your representatives are asked to do by lobbyists and if your elected representatives promise lobbyists something or refuse to support something.
At the start of this Session, there were only 6 legislators, in addition to me, in the entire state who were willing to publicly support my bill or another House bill requiring disclosure of legislators’ emails, schedules, correspondence with lobbyists, records of investigations of legislators for misconduct, etc…
And, there was absolutely NO legal requirement in place to require that we disclose those records.
SB 6617 requires disclosure of both legislators’ calendars or schedules and ALL legislators’ correspondence with lobbyists and the companies or others who employ lobbyists. This is actually a step into the sunshine for the Legislature and people of Washington, which I have been working towards for a long time.
Thus, I voted for SB 6617 because to vote against it would have left us with the law appearing to exempt the entire Legislature from any meaningful disclosures. And, there are many legislators who preferred to do nothing.
I led opposition to the process involving this bill, however. I urged that the Senate and House hold hearings on the bill – just as should have happened with my bill. The Seattle Times front page story on Saturday (Feb 24) noted that I was the prime sponsor of the bill which would have put the Legislature entirely under the Public Records Act, and quoted me for my role opposing this undemocratic process with barely a chance for people to testify or make their voices heard. Nor did others and I have the opportunity to offer amendments that would have strengthened the bill.
For example, I believe very strongly that there should be judicial review of a decision to withhold documents. I will continue to push for a judge to decide if withholding a record is consistent with the law as passed by the legislature. That is why we have courts. This change will be vital for trust and openness.
I will continue to push for the legislature to have a formal process for complaints by our employees, including, of course, sexual harassment. Under my proposed bill, the records of such complaints would have been public, consistent with other elected bodies (such as a city council staff) under the Public Records Act. The public has a right to know how the people they elect to represent them conduct themselves and treat others!
My bill would not have cut off the news media’s existing litigation over the legislature’s exemption from the Public Records Act. Nor would it have exempted existing records – particularly relating to misconduct of legislators.
Most news coverage has erroneously portrayed SB 6617 as creating a new restriction on public access to legislators’ records. It’s fair to criticize the bill for exempting existing records and only applying to new records after July 1.
However, the current law essentially exempts the Legislature from almost all disclosures. One trial court held that, while the Legislature as an entity is exempt, each of the 147 individual legislators is an “agency” and subject to requirements such as publishing rules for record retention, as well as disclosing records. Under this one decision, many of the records sought by news reporters would remain exempt, such as investigations against legislators for misconduct, harassment, etc. That’s because the decision found the Legislature and the House and Senate were exempt. The House and Senate conduct any investigations – and, are the custodians of our email and other records. Most open government attorneys don’t believe that the State Supreme Court would uphold the totally impractical ruling that each legislator is a “state agency.” If we didn’t do anything, almost all legislative records would remain exempt from being disclosed. I don’t believe that would be healthy for open government.
I am committed to continuing to voluntarily disclosing my calendar to let everyone see who I meet with. I will be posting it on my website in the future, so you know who your elected representative meets with and when. I announced this in my floor speech on 6617. Within a month, you (and reporters) will be able to find my schedule of who I met with during this year’s legislative session right here.
SB 6617 opens up the Legislature to public scrutiny of legislators’ contacts with lobbyists for the first time, as I have urged. It is just a first step, with many more to go for our legislature and government to be more open. I will continue to introduce and fight for legislation to shed more light on the conduct of legislators and how they represent you.
As always, I welcome your feedback. Join me at my drop-in discussion “Traveling Town Halls,” write or call me.