Critics slam the move as a severe blow to government transparency
By Josh Kelety
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
In votes with veto-proof wide margins, state Legislators made themselves exempt from public records disclosure laws.
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.
The legislation, SB 6617, was passed through both the Senate and House in a three-day sprint with no public hearing as an "emergency" measure following a January court ruling found the Legislature subject to state public disclosure laws.
The law takes effect immediately and exempts the state lawmakers from the Public Records Act retroactively, shielding from disclosure information on sexual assault incidents in the Legislature that a group of news organizations had sought and sued for last year.
Now members of the state Senate and House can opt not to disclose a variety of documents, such as correspondence with anyone they consider to be their constituents. The bill would allow disclosure of some records, such as communications between lawmakers and registered lobbyists, if created after July 1, 2018.
The bill was introduced on Feb. 21 and was rushed to floor vote two days later. It passed the Senate 41-7 with no debate and, shortly after, was approved in the House by 83-14ówide margins that preempt a potential veto from Governor Jay Inslee, who does not use executive privilege to shield his correspondence from public disclosure.
The fast-tracked legislation follows a January 19 ruling from Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese who decreed that the legislature is subject to state public disclosure laws.