Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Many of you have contacted my office regarding Senate Bill 6617 – also known as the Legislative Public Record Act. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns with me on this issue and being involved in the legislative process.
In 1972, Washington voters approved the Public Records Act (PRA). This original act requires most records maintained by state, county and city governments be made available to the public. An amendment to the original act was made in 1995 inserting language giving state legislators an exemption from the requirement to disclose most records. As a result, the Legislature remains the sole government body under a blanket exemption from the disclosure requirements of the PRA.
A number of media organizations challenged this position in a lawsuit. On Jan. 19, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled the Legislature as a whole is not an agency subject to the Public Records Act, but that each individual state lawmakers' offices are considered individual state agencies. This unworkable ruling by the lower court judge is what prompted the introduction of Senate Bill 6617.
The recent headlines have read the Legislature passed a law to “exempt” itself from the Public Records Act. Some of the reporting on this policy has not been balanced.
The bill did not exempt us from disclosing records from the public. It would actually open up more records for disclosure than under current law. What the bill would do is ensure all 147 state lawmakers are not considered individual state agencies. It would also safeguard constituent privacy.
Due to the swiftness this policy moved through the Legislature, it is understandable why you feel we have been hiding or trying to conceal our records, rather than creating transparency.
I want to take the opportunity to update you on the status of this legislation.
I joined many of my Republican colleagues in supporting this measure because I believe in keeping my correspondence with you, the constituent, private. I am not opposed to providing openness and transparency in the day-to-day operations of my office, but do believe your personal identifying information should be kept private.
On Thursday evening, Gov. Inslee vetoed Senate Bill 6617 at the request of the majority party. Every House Republican signed a letter in response to the veto action. We stand united on protecting constituent privacy while finding the appropriate solution to a more open and transparent government. You can read our letter by clicking here.
We recognize the actions taken by the Legislature to move the bill immediately through the legislative process, without giving the public and key stakeholders the opportunity to testify on the bill, was not the correct action. The governor's veto is a call for us to correct our actions.
House Bill 2255 is the way to correct our improper actions. This bill would remove language currently exempting state legislators from the full purview of the Public Records Act. Under the bill, all 147 lawmakers will not be considered individual state agencies. The secretary of the Senate and the chief clerk of the House would serve as the appointed public records officers responsible for filling PRA requests.
On December 5, 2017, Republicans introduced this legislation. The majority party refused to give it a hearing in the House State Government, Elections and Information Technology Committee at the beginning of session. House Republicans are demanding Speaker Frank Chopp give this bill a full hearing and advance it through the process.
I will keep you updated on the progress of this important issue.
It's an honor to serve you!