Last week, at political warp speed, the Legislature approved its own exemption to the state Public Records Act.
Senate Bill 6617 was worked out quietly by leaders of the four legislative caucuses and rushed through within 48 hours of being introduced to lawmakers.
The bill was approved 41-7 in the Senate and 83-14 in the House.
All but one Tri-City area legislator voted in favor of the outrageous proposal, which was advanced in such a way that traditional public hearings could not be held on the measure. Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, didn’t vote because she was absent.
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Of those who did, only a spattering opposed the measure statewide. There were both Democrats and Republicans against the bill, transcending party lines.
We were curious about those lawmakers who had the courage to push back against the bill, especially since none of our own lawmakers were in that group.
We agree with the sentiments expressed by all these lawmakers who were able to resist the pressure to vote with their caucus. It’s a shame none of our Tri-City area representatives shared similar concerns for transparency.
Here is what we have culled from various news sites and political watchdog groups:
Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup, posted by Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center:
“I am deeply disappointed in the legislature’s blatant disregard for transparency in the legislative process. This is a time where the legislature should come together to make government more transparent, not less. The very process utilized to craft and pass this bill violates the public trust. For the last year I have been telling people that government is out of line by not allowing access to information that belongs to the people. SB 6617 is another example of this.
Legislators were restricted in this debate and were not allowed to verbalize any argument against this bill on the House Floor. The House Floor debate consisted of one ‘pro’ speech from each side of the chamber and there were not any speeches against this bill, despite there being several ‘no’ votes. This is wildly different from other bills where members are freely able to stand and speak. It is very disappointing.”
Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, Seattle Times:
She said the bill “wholly disrupts” Washington state’s transparency laws. “Succinctly put, the bill is a body slam to open government and the accountability that our citizens expect and deserve.”
State Rep Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, The Columbian:
Kraft was the only member of Clark County’s legislative delegation to vote against the bill. “Ultimately, I voted against this bill because I believe the process of how this bill transpired could’ve been done differently with more public input.”
“As a representative I have to be accountable to the citizens so their feedback on important issues such as this especially is key.”
Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, King 5 News:
Miloscia acknowledged the argument for certain privacy concerns, but says the policy was never fully debated or digested by lawmakers who rushed through the bill.
“I think a good public hearing about how do we open up government to the people we’re supposed to serve would have been valuable to all the citizens of our state.”
“This is just the latest example of us hiding documents from the public. I believe there’s no reason the legislature needs a different public records act than the executive branch or all of the local governments in the state.”
Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, Spokesman Review:
“Outside the Legislature, it seems reasonable to limit legislators to the same standards as other elected officials.” He said he didn’t speak against the bill because it clearly had the support to pass.
Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, My Ballard:
“I voted against the open records SB 6617 bill not in criticism of the authors. But in a belief that [the legislature] required more deliberative time to craft a responsible solution with full public participation.”