Washington State House Democrats


An update from Reps. Robinson and Sells on the Public Records Act

Last week we passed Senate Bill 6617. We both voted in support of this bill. Both of our offices have received dozens of emails and phone calls from people concerned that it will limit government transparency.

In fact, this is the largest expansion of legislative records being opened to the public in over two decades. Once the bill goes into effect on July 1, 2018, more legislative records will be subject to public disclosure, including:

  • Legislators’ calendars, including the names and dates of individuals and organizations with whom they’ve met;
  • Legislators’ correspondence on legislative business to and from lobbyists and other people who are paid to influence legislation;
  • Final dispositions of investigations and disciplinary proceedings by administrative committees that oversee the House and Senate.

This expansion and openness has been lost in much of the coverage.

We know there is concern in the press and in the public about the expedited process for this bill’s passage. Neither of us support the quick manner in which this bill was passed. We do, however, support more government transparency – so we both voted for passage of this bill.

This legislation comes as a response to a superior court judge’s ruling on a court case brought by media groups. The judge said that the Legislature, including both the House and Senate, are not subject to the Public Records Act, much like the judicial branch of the government is not subject to the Public Records Act.

Here’s where it gets tricky: the judge the said that each individual member was a separate state agency subject to the Public Records Act. So all the administrative, research and support offices of the Legislature are not subject to the Act, but individual legislators’ offices are.

The two of us certainly support our offices being open and transparent with the public. What we don’t want to see happen, however, is constituents’ sensitive and private information become publicly accessible. This is the primary intent of SB 6617.

In the Legislature, we not only create and pass bills, our offices also work with constituents on highly sensitive issues.

These issues range from child abuse, foster care, child support cases, behavioral and mental health issues, the developmentally disabled community’s needs, healthcare problems, unemployment cases, and more. We often need personal information from constituents for continued follow up when working on casework, which can mean anything from addresses, to phone numbers, to detailed information about a personal crisis.

This bill is an effort to make the legislative process more open than it has been for the last two decades by sharing our legislative calendars and disclosing our correspondence with lobbyists, while also ensuring private and sensitive information from constituents remains protected.

Here is the bill language and here is the bill summary, in case you want to explore the issue further. You are also welcome to contact us at any time.

To those who have called and emailed our offices on this matter, thank you, we appreciate your engagement and hope you find the information in this newsletter useful.