In a lighting fast move, both houses of the Washington state legislature voted to exempt themselves from open records laws. And they did it so fast, you have to wonder if the whole thing wasn’t orchestrated behind the scenes.
We’ll start with a report from The Seattle Times:
Ever seen legislation in Olympia move this fast? With no debate, the Washington state House and Senate approved a bill Friday that makes some legislative records public starting in July — but shields records that already exist.
Within minutes of each of other, Washington House and Senate lawmakers approved a bill Friday that makes some legislative records public starting in July — but shields records that already exist.
The votes came about 48 hours after lawmakers announced a sweeping proposal to remove the Legislature from the state Public Records Act and set new guidelines for the disclosure of some laws.
Senate Bill 6617 passed the Senate, without debate. Moments later, House lawmakers took it up and approved it.
And then, the entire Washington state legislature went mute when asked to comment on the move.
Again, The Seattle Times:
The Seattle Times on Thursday asked every single lawmaker to comment on Senate Bill 6617, which would remove the Legislature from Washington’s voter-approved Public Records Act. Fewer than 10 lawmakers have since responded with thoughts about the proposal.
Perhaps this is why there was such a hasty move to seal up those nasty records:
The proposal comes after a court in January found legislative leaders in violation of Washington’s Public Records Act by withholding documents such as emails, calendars and disciplinary reports related to sexual harassment.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese wrote in that ruling, “The plain and unambiguous language of the Public Records Act applies to the offices of senators and representatives … ”
That case is being appealed and may end up before the state Supreme Court.
SB 6617 would make public some emails and calendar items starting July 1, but would keep emails between lawmakers and constituents confidential.
The bill also would prevent independent judicial review of challenges to the proposed records law. Instead, two committees of those lawmakers would review challenges of people seeking records.
Transparency much? Looks like there may some explosive politics soon coming out of Washington state. Stay tuned.