OLYMPIA – “Our constituents have a right to know who their legislators meet with and what legislators promise to whom, as I’ve always believed and acted,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle. “On the day after the U.S. House impeached Donald Trump for obstruction of Congress for refusing to provide documents, the importance of openness in our records for the sake of democracy is vital.
“We’ve had two years to prepare for this but have not trained ourselves to comply. However, we already have all email and legislative files on central servers for trained staff to retain, retrieve and prepare for release. Thus, while individual legislators and their offices are held to be ‘agencies’ and responsible for compliance, the Clerk of House and Secretary of the Senate can easily provide all legislators with centralized records retention, disclosure, and search capabilities.
“As we go forward, I’m urging my colleagues and our administrators to immediately hire more experienced records staff, train all legislators to comply with the court’s decision, and prepare to release investigation reports on legislator or staff misconduct. This is going to take an investment in staff trained to retain and search records, as well as to respond to records requests.
“I will strongly oppose any legislative effort to weaken the public’s and media’s right to know by amending the Act to reduce legislative openness. We should be clear that the House and Senate as institutions are also fully subject to the Act. If the House and Senate do not proactively move to disclose all records that are not exempt from the Act, I will prepare legislation to clarify that the institutions are also subject to the Act.
“Finally, investigations into misconduct by legislators or staff should not be hidden from disclosure. Such investigations may be done by the Clerk of the House, Secretary of the Senate or Ethics Committee. These processes could also include an outside investigator. Under the opinion, these may not be subject disclosure under old practices of shielding reports about misconduct from individual legislators.”
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Pollet is an attorney who has litigated and often given professional presentations on the application of the Public Records and Freedom of Information Acts, taught an Open Government Law and Principles course, and supervised law students in an Open Government “externship” program. Pollet was the first legislator to voluntarily post his session calendars, notes on meetings, and emails asking for meetings on his legislative website. Pollet has also previously introduced legislation to ensure that the Legislature and legislators disclose records pursuant to the Public Records Act.