Defending the indefensible.
That’s where most of Washington state’s lawmakers were left after their scandalous sprint late last week to pass an “emergency” law that would shield them from the state’s Public Records Act.
As reported on bainbridgereview.com, SB 6617 was passed through both the Senate and House in a three-day rush job — one done without a public hearing and without any debate in the Senate.
Why? Because the Legislature suddenly found itself subject to the same disclosure laws that local governments have labored under for years, one that dictates that the public’s business be done in public. That means giving citizens access to documents that detail how decisions are made, from emails, correspondence between elected officials and government workers, and more. The new sunshine stems from a ruling on Jan. 19 by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese, who found the Legislature was subject to state public disclosure laws, just like local city councils, school board members, and other elected officials.
The ruling itself was prompted by efforts by lawmakers in Olympia to shield their colleagues from scrutiny of wrongdoing.
As Olympia-based reporter Josh Kelety reported: Last year, the Associated Press, the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, and other regional news organizations sued the Legislature after it denied their requests for documentation of any sexual assault and harassment complaints filed against all 147 lawmakers. Lawyers for the Legislature promptly appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, then lawmakers set to work re-writing the public records law.
And on Feb. 23 — in one of the greatest setbacks for open government, transparency and trust in recent memory — SB 6617 was passed in the Senate 41-7 and in the House by 83-14.
All three of our 23rd District lawmakers — Sen. Christine Rolfes, and Rep. Drew Hansen and Rep. Sherry Appleton — voted to approve the bill.
Now, lawmakers are in damage-control mode. Many are claiming the bill actually improves government transparency, a false claim that doesn’t pass the straight-face test.
Predictably, other legislators are now blaming the messenger — the press — for the unwanted publicity created by their attempts to keep the public in the dark about the work they are supposedly doing on our behalf.
We expect more from our lawmakers. Those who voted for SB 6617 should be ashamed — Rolfes, Hansen and Appleton included.