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November 16, 2018

2/28/2018 11:37:00 AM
Open record laws require access for a reason
From the editor

The state legislature has done a very bad thing. It is important that you pay attention and not yawn and turn away from this editorial.
Last Friday both houses passed SB6117 exempting themselves from open record mandates passed by voters – you. Local governments and state agencies must follow open record requirements, but in response to losing a court case, the legislature changed the rules for themselves, retroactive to statehood. The gall.
Newspaper owners are up in arms. You need to be also. Reporters use records of communications between large monied interests and legislators to shed light on back room sweetheart deals. Being kept from those documents isn’t an anti reporter act. No, dealing in darkness is a threat to democracy, to you, the public. If you don’t know when plans are hatched to sell you down the river, you cannot judge legislators words as lies when they do X for their corporate masters when they told you they would do Y for you, their local constituents.
Consider this: when was the last time Democratic and Republican lawmakers came together to pass anything in an overwhelmingly bi-partisan fashion? They joined together against us, we the people.
Both parties have sold us down the river.
My newspaper association wrote this statement last weekend:
The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association is deeply disturbed by the Legislature’s action to limit the public’s right to know.
As of Friday, the state’s lawmakers and their staffs are no longer subject to the state’s Public Records Act.
Most problematic is the way our elected officials went about this. They crafted the law in secret, and with less than a day’s notice and without public comment, they made it effective immediately and retroactive to the time of statehood.
Last month a Superior Court judge ruled that the state Legislature is subject to the Public Records Act, just like every other elected official throughout the state.
In the wake of that ruling, the Legislature introduced Senate Bill 6617 to write themselves out of the Public Records Act. By declaring it an emergency, they circumvented the usual process, which involves notice to the public and open hearings before committees. Then they rushed it into law two days after it was introduced and with less than two weeks left in this legislative session.
The sponsors are being disingenuous when they say the law is a move toward transparency with its provision that future communications with lobbyists will be subject to disclosure.
What the law really does is shield from disclosure communication with anyone who is not officially registered as a lobbyist in the state of Washington.
This opens the door to abuse, as representatives of large corporations, lawyers for special interests and mega donors can be treated as “constituents” whose privacy needs protecting.
To see how each of the 147 legislators in both chambers voted, call up bill number 6617 at leg.wa.gov.
This is the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association position statement written by Sandy Stokes. Stokes, the former co-owner of the Weekly News, is the WNPA’s Olympia bureau chief during the legislative session.

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