Proposed public records bill is dead; Senator withdraws bill exempting Legislature from public disclosure of some records | 2019 Legislative Session

OLYMPIA – A proposal to provide exemptions to the Public Records Act for the Legislature is dead, according to bill sponsor, Jamie Pederson, D-Seattle.

Senate Bill 5784 drew fire from media representatives at a public hearing last week.

At a press conference Tuesday, Democratic leaders from both the House and the Senate indicated that because of the outcry against the proposal, they would not move forward with a public records bill this session.

Senate Bill 5784, proposed by Pederson and signed by six other Democratic senators, was heard by the Senate State Government and Tribal Relations Committee Feb. 13.

Rowland Thompson of Allied Daily Newspapers and the Washington State Newspaper Publishers Association testified in opposition saying, “We would rather lose the case than have this bill.”

Democratic lawmakers cited Thompson and other media representative’s testimony as a deciding factor in not pursuing the bill.

“This bill is a nonstarter, there’s nothing to even work with,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, of the now-dead bill.

Republicans plan to put forward a bill based on a measure introduced last year by former District 5 Rep. Paul Graves, who lost his 2018 race for re-election. The Graves bill would have explicitly added the Legislature to the existing public records act and did not add new exemptions for the Legislature. The bill never received a public hearing.

The bill that did pass the Legislature in 2018, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee, had received broad Republican support.

Last year’s effort to exempt the Legislature from the Public Records Act followed a lawsuit from multiple media organizations. A Thurston County Superior Court judge had ruled that the Legislature was subject to the Public Records Act and had not been in compliance for years.

House Minority Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said the Republican caucus would like to move forward with a version of Graves’ bill.

“I think in general our caucus has been for the maximum amount of openness,” said Wilcox.

Senate Republican leadership took a broad stance on the whole of the Public Records Act at a press conference Tuesday.

“We need to take a look at the public records in general, not just for the Legislature as we go forward,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

“We have to make sure that people are getting access to the information they need but we also are not wasting public resources on the frivolous types of demands that come in, especially for our local governments,” he said.

With the cutoff date for many committees Feb. 22, a new bill addressing public records would have to be dropped before Friday.

“We are going to re-drop the Graves bill ’cause we think it’s important and we think it should move forward,” said Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw.

Emma Epperly is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.

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