Our state Legislature corrupted the lawmaking process last week when it rammed through secretly-crafted legislation permitting it to work outside the voter-approved Public Records Act.
The action is so deplorable we’ve broken with tradition to publish an editorial on the front page of the Tri-City Herald to call attention to it.
Such a self-serving, blatant disregard for public scrutiny must be slapped down.
The person for that job is Gov. Jay Inslee. We doubt he will sign this appalling bill, but he could choose to do nothing and then it would become law in a few more days.
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So Inslee must veto Senate Bill 6617.
This situation exemplifies why our government is designed with three branches — legislative, executive and judicial — so that each holds the others accountable. This beautiful, time-tested system ensures one branch does not dominate the others.
Make no mistake, in this case, our Legislature is trying to undermine this separation of power.
Its members have created a new set of public records rules that apply only to them in response to a recent court ruling they didn’t like.
Now, they are betting Inslee does not have the political courage to block legislation that was approved with a veto-proof margin in both the House and Senate.
Inslee should flex his executive muscles and do what’s right, regardless. His veto of this bill would be a testament to transparency and a champion moment.
It also might buy a bit more time for constituents who would have commented on this bill if it had been properly vetted. The public was completely caught off guard by the speed with which it was approved.
This bill was drafted quietly and introduced Wednesday by Washington Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maurey Island, and Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
The public was given less than 24 hours’ notice of a work session where comments would be taken, and by Friday the legislation was approved 41-7 in the Senate and 83-14 in the House.
It appears when legislators are thinking only of themselves they can move quickly.
Lawmakers were able to push the bill through without typical legislative channels by declaring it an emergency measure. Its timing — introduced too late for traditional public hearings but early enough to override a potential veto — reeks of duplicity.
Several Washington news organizations filed a lawsuit last September claiming state legislators should be held to the same disclosure laws as elected officials who serve on city councils, school boards and county commissions. Even the governor’s office typically fulfills document requests.
In January, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the media. Now, lawmakers claim the judge’s ruling unworkable, and set out to find a way to exempt themselves from the state Public Records Act.
They claim their proposed legislation brings balance, offers more transparency and better protection of constituents.
We say — judging by the stealthy way this bill was pushed through — we can’t believe them.
The bill retroactively blocks all the public records considered open by the earlier court challenge. It also prohibits the possibility of running a public referendum to overturn the new law, should it go into effect.
If, in the future, someone wants to appeal the denial of a records request from a legislator, guess who hears the complaint? Other legislators. Their decision would be deemed final, with no other outside recourse. The bill flat-out forbids taking the issue to court.
This proposal and this process represents an unbelievable abuse of power.
Perhaps if Inslee vetoes it, some lawmakers will re-think their vote — especially if they realize how negatively it affects their reputation.
Every Tri-City area legislator voted in favor of the bill except for Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, who was absent.
We can assure those lawmakers who supported this bill that whatever good they have done in Olympia will be overshadowed by this one terrible decision.
We will remind voters which legislators voted to set themselves above the public records law every chance we get, and we will note they did it in the most self-serving way possible.
This issue will follow them like a black rain cloud.
Inslee needs to veto this bill and force lawmakers who supported it to reconsider their positions. Legislators should know the only way to redeem their credibility will be to vote it down the second time around.