Message for legislators in Olympia: You aren’t that special.
Nobody likes to hear that, but when it comes to Washington’s Public Records Act, lawmakers apparently need a frequent and unwavering reminder. Because as the Public Records Task Force continues its work, legislators continue their attempts to sidestep the law. “We have had a lot of discussion about what the law is,” state Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said at a recent meeting of the task force. “And I think what we’re here for is a discussion about: What do we think the law should be?”
No, that is not the discussion. The law passed by voters in 1972 is clear, and the discussion must be about how legislators can adhere to it. After all, other elected officials throughout Washington — ranging from school board members to the state attorney general — manage to do so. Such adherence is not difficult, yet lawmakers continue to suggest that they are special and should not be beholden to the public that hires and pays them.
At issue is public access to items such as a legislator’s work-related emails, phone records and schedules. If an elected representative is meeting with lobbyists for environmental groups while considering a bill about oil trains, the public has a right to know.
That is the guideline spelled out in the law, and a Thurston County judge confirmed that in a January ruling on a lawsuit brought by The Associated Press and other media outlets. Rather than agree to follow the law, legislators attempted to change it and passed a bill to exempt themselves from several provisions. The public took note, and more than 20,000 citizens contacted Gov. Jay Inslee, urging him to veto the bill, which he did.
Notably, Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, was the only Southwest Washington legislator to vote against the bill.