The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

A bill is proposed to make a no-brainer legislative fix


November 29, 2017

Some bills are introduced that make you go, “What? That wasn’t a law already?” Rep. Paul Graves, R-Fall City, is introducing a bill ahead of the 2018 Washington State legislative session that would remove language currently exempting state legislators from the full purview of the Public Records Act.

Right now, if you make a public records request for legislators’ information, they can say, “I don’t want to and you can’t make me.” Graves’ bill would make them say, “Yes, of course, coming right up.”

What? That wasn’t a law already?

Taxpayers deserve transparency, Graves, about to start his first term, says. He thinks it’s wrong for lawmakers to get preferential treatment with the Public Records Act. Are lawmakers attached to receiving that preferential treatment? It could be telling to see just how well his bill fares.

Once upon a time (1972, to be exact), Washington voters approved the Public Records Act. That law requires most records maintained by state, county, and city governments be made available to the public. But in 1995 an amendment was inserted in the bill by the sages of Olympia giving state legislators an exemption from the requirement to disclose most records. As a result, the Legislature remains the sole governmental body within Washington under a blanket exemption from the disclosure requirements of the Public Records Act.

What? Really?

Graves believes the Legislature is correctly interpreting the 1995 language. He just doesn’t believe state lawmakers should be receiving preferential treatment, and he’s got the bill—which he calls the Legislative Transparency Act—to back that up.

“Transparency and accountability are critical to our system of representative democracy,” Graves stated in a press release about his bill. “From the governor to city council members, no elected official should be exempt from answering to the people they represent.”

Graves also cited an existing chapter of the Public Records Act, which 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.” (RCW 42.56.030)

As proposed, the Legislative Transparency Act would essentially remove the 1995 language and subject state legislators to the same public disclosure requirements currently applied to elected officials at all other levels of government.

Citizens of the state await the collective reaction of the Washington legislature. Will the broad consensus be, Well, it’s about time this got fixed? Or will surly recalcitrance roll like a dark cloud over the capitol?

Under the proposed law, the secretary of the Senate and chief clerk of the House would serve as the appointed public records officers responsible for filling public records requests made to legislative members in each respective chamber. OK, if there’s any potential glitch, it might be the extra burden placed on the secretary and the chief clerk. Maybe those costs could be covered with all the federally illegal marijuana money rolling into state coffers. What’s the price tag on doing the right thing?

“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,” said Graves. “This is good governance, plain and simple.”

You know, his plan is just crazy enough to work.


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