Editorials

Remind state lawmakers they work for you

Washington State Capitol in Olympia
Washington State Capitol in Olympia McClatchy

Too many state legislators still don’t get it.

Instead of accepting that the state Public Records Act applies to them, they continue to look for ways to work around it.

Senate Bill 5784 is a renewed attempt by lawmakers to wiggle out of full compliance of the law. While the measure has been plugged as a compromise, it’s really a legislative shield.

A lawsuit is pending in the state Supreme Court that would force the Legislature to work under the same open records law as other elected officials in the state. Legislators are concerned the ruling won’t go their way, so they are trying to adopt legislation that would supersede the case.

“I would rather lose the lawsuit than have this bill approved,” said Rowland Thompson, the executive director of The Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington.

We think Thompson’s take on this speaks volumes.

SB 5784 is similar to the atrocious bill lawmakers tried to ram through last year when they exempted themselves from the Public Records Act in record time, bypassing the proper public hearings process and approving it by a veto-proof margin.

The backlash was fierce, however, and citizens overwhelmed the governor’s office with letters, phone calls and emails all calling for him to veto the measure.

In the end, the public’s outrage did the job. Inslee blocked the bill and lawmakers backed down.

A public records task force was formed last fall to hammer out a recommendation, but the result was a weak, overly broad consensus that does not seem to have made much difference in the debate.

So now we have SB 5784. Lawmakers seemed to have learned their lesson about skipping public notice, so a hearing on the bill is planned for 8 a.m. Feb. 13 in the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee.

Members of the Tri-City Herald have arranged for the opportunity to testify at the legislative hearing through the remote testimony tool offered at Columbia Basin College.

Citizens in the region who also want to speak at the meeting should send Kennewick Sen. Sharon Brown an email at Sharon.Brown@leg.wa.gov, as well as Sen. Sam Hunt at Sam.Hunt@leg.wa.gov. He is chairman of the committee holding the hearing.

When you create your email, be sure and put “Remote Testimony” in the subject line so they know the urgency of your request.

The Public Records Act came from a voter-approved initiative in 1972, and its preamble reads in part, “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”

For whatever reason, our state legislators — as a group — can’t seem to grasp this foundational tenet. They need reminding.

Other elected officials, including members of school boards, city councils and county commissions have managed to follow the Public Records Act and at the same time protect the privacy of constituents.

State legislators can do it, too. They just need to pursue transparency instead of secrecy.

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