The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, of which The Reflector is a member, along with The Associated Press and other news organizations, has filed a lawsuit against the Legislature for public records access. 

In 1995, lawmakers quietly altered the definition of legislative records in a way that flies in the face of the will of voters, who in 1972 passed an initiative that required “full access to public records so as to assure continuing public confidence in fairness of elections and governmental processes, and so as to assure that the public interest will be fully protected.”

State lawmakers routinely use the change in definition to reject public records requests. It’s a tragic sidestepping of the law, and one that prevents the public from learning what their elected leaders are doing and when. 

Lawmakers are not exempt from the will of the people who put them in office. We must demand that the Legislature change its tune on public records, especially at a time when lawmakers have struggled to complete their basic duties, such as the passage of a capital budget.

“How can we as citizens know that our elected officials are making good decisions if we don’t have access to the same information they are using to make those decisions?” Toby Nixon, a Kirkland City Council member and president of the Washington Coalition of Open Government, previously told The Associated Press.

Freshman state lawmaker Rep. Paul Graves, R-Fall City, has already presented a possible solution. The Legislative Transparency Act, which he announced last month, would remove language that exempts state legislators from the Public Records Act.

Graves noted a chapter of the Public Records Act that states, “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”

The Legislative Transparency Act would remove the language added in 1995 and would require state legislators to abide by the same disclosure requirements other elected officials must adhere to.

The proposed law appoints the secretary of the Senate and the chief clerk of the House to serve as the appointed public records officers who would be responsible for completing public records requests made to legislative members in each respective chamber, the release states. 

“If government is not transparent, I consider it my duty — as both as a representative of the people and as a Washington citizen — to correct the problem,” Graves said. “This is good governance, plain and simple.”

We strongly support the proposed legislation, and we think Democrats now in control of both houses of the Legislature should as well, along with their Republican counterparts.

It’s time for the Legislature to come into compiance with the Washington Public Records Act. 

The 2018 legislative session will convene on Jan. 8. It is scheduled to run for 60 consecutive days.

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