Task force says state law­mak­ers need to be trans­par­ent

The Olympian - - Front Page - As­so­ci­ated Press

A task force cre­ated af­ter Wash­ing­ton law­mak­ers at­tempted to ex­empt them­selves from the state’s Pub­lic Records Act says the Leg­is­la­ture should be more trans­par­ent about its work­ings.

The group, which in­cludes law­mak­ers and news me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives, ap­proved sev­eral guide­lines for how the Leg­is­la­ture should han­dle the is­sue of pub­lic records at its fi­nal meet­ing Fri­day.

Mem­bers agreed that dis­putes about whether spe­cific records are pub­lic should be han­dled by an in­de­pen­dent body, and that pri­vacy pro­tec­tions al­ready in the Pub­lic Records Act should cover com­mu­ni­ca­tions that peo­ple have with law­mak­ers. But they could not reach con­sen­sus about the ex­tent to which doc­u­ments re­flect­ing law­mak­ers’ de­lib­er­a­tive process should be blocked from dis­clo­sure.

News or­ga­ni­za­tions led by The As­so­ci­ated Press sued the Leg­is­la­ture last year for fail­ing to re­lease emails, sched­ules and re­ports of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Af­ter a Thurston County Su­pe­rior Court judge ruled that the Pub­lic Records Act does ap­ply to law­mak­ers’ of­fices, leg­is­la­tors hastily tried to change the law early this year by over­rid­ing nor­mal leg­isla­tive pro­ce­dures, prompt­ing pub­lic out­rage and a veto from Gov. Jay Inslee. The judge’s rul­ing has been ap­pealed, and the case awaits ar­gu­ments at the state Supreme Court.

The task force com­prises eight law­mak­ers, three me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives, three mem­bers of the pub­lic and an open gov­ern­ment ad­vo­cate.

Among the other points on which the group unan­i­mously agreed were that pri­vacy pro­tec­tions for whistle­blow­ers should be ex­tended to any com­mu­ni­ca­tions they have with law­mak­ers and that it should be pos­si­ble to ob­tain an in­de­pen­dent ad­vi­sory opin­ion about whether records are re­leasable.

The most con­tested point was about whether law­mak­ers should be sub­ject to the same rules as other pol­icy-mak­ing of­fi­cials in the state, both at the lo­cal level and in the ex­ec­u­tive branch, when it comes to mak­ing pub­lic doc­u­ments that re­flect de­lib­er­a­tive process. Such doc­u­ments are al­ready largely pre­cluded from re­lease un­der the Pub­lic Records Act, but

some law­mak­ers on the com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing Re­pub­li­can Sen. Cur­tis King, sug­gested ad­di­tional pro­tec­tions might be nec­es­sary.

Law­mak­ers could face blow­back from con­stituents if con­stituents were able to see how com­pro­mises are reached in Olympia, King said.

That drew ar­gu­ment from me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in­clud­ing Ray Rivera, a deputy man­ag­ing ed­i­tor at The Seat­tle Times. Rivera noted that there ap­peared to be lit­tle harm in tele­vis­ing the “de­lib­er­a­tive process” the com­mit­tee was en­gaged in at the meet­ing, and he said ex­ist­ing pro­tec­tions could be tweaked if needed.

But in the end, the task force’s mem­bers failed to agree on com­pro­mise lan­guage that said: “There is a need for pro­tec­tion of the Leg­isla­tive de­lib­er­a­tive process, be­gin­ning with the ex­ist­ing de­lib­er­a­tive process ex­emp­tion in the Pub­lic Records Act and adding nar­rowly crafted ex­emp­tions as needed.”

Re­pub­li­can Rep. Matt Shea, who re­ferred to the me­dia at a gun rights rally in Au­gust as “dirty, god­less, hate­ful peo­ple,” did not at­tend Fri­day’s meet­ing.


Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirk­land, left, co-chair of the Leg­isla­tive Task Force on Pub­lic Records, con­fers with co-chair Sen. Cur­tis King, R-Yakima, on Fri­day dur­ing a task force work ses­sion at the Capi­tol.

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