Washington lawmakers exempt themselves from Public Records Act

On Friday, Washington State lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to keep many of their records from public view.

They moved with rare speed because of a lawsuit to force the legislature to abide by the Public Records Act.

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Lawmakers suspended their rules and sped up the process to pass the exemption from the act just 24 hours after Thursday's hastily called public hearing.

“Everything about the way this bill is being handled makes the average citizen leery of the legislation, leery of everyone in the legislature,” said Gordon Padget who drove from Vancouver to testify.

But in court, lawmakers have insisted they do not come under the Public Records Act at all-- so both Republican and Democratic leaders say this action requires more transparency.

“Opening up tens of thousands of documents, including our calendars, communications with lobbyists,” said Senate Democratic Majority Leader Sharon Nelson.

“The bill is balanced towards a solution that allows the public to know what's going on inside their government in a way that is both workable and protects the privacy of our constituents,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler.

Under the legislation, disclosable legislative records include the outcomes of disciplinary proceedings, legislative business calendars and limited legislative correspondence. It applies only to records created after July 1, 2018. There's no requirement to disclose anything before that.

The legislature did not extend similar protection to local governments, which still must disclose much more. That's why Former Sedro-Wooley Mayor Keith Wagoner voted no.

“The public records act is an onerous thing in the way it's applied right now in local government so I thought it's very odd of us to set ourselves apart,” the Republican Senator said.

Representative Jake Fey said the process was too fast.

“I think that the legislation did a lot of great things. It's just for me. I didn't approve of the rush,” said the Democrat from Tacoma.

Governor Inslee said Thursday he opposed the bill and held open the prospect of a veto. But the House and Senate came together to passed it a veto-proof majority. The open records lawsuit by the Associated Press, KIRO-7, and other media outlets will continue.