Lawmakers: Don’t pull a fast one on the people of Washington state. The people are paying attention.
Some lawmakers in the Legislature want to make it a lot more difficult for the people of Washington to keep an eye on their state employees.
They are so determined to change the state Public Records Act to exempt public employee birth dates from disclosure they are pushing the idea on two fronts. The original misguided bill, Senate Bill 6079, was voted out of the Senate State Government Committee on Jan. 26.
Then — in a move considered sneaky even by people inured to backroom deals and political maneuvering — the idea came up again in the same committee on Wednesday as a change to Senate Bill 5418, which contains recommendations from the Washington State Sunshine Committee.
Combining bills is a pretty common procedure in the Legislature. But this was a special case. The Sunshine Committee never discussed the birth-date exemption. And even if it had, it would not have added it to their bill, committee members told lawmakers.
The Sunshine Committee’s work is focused on maintaining the public’s access to vital public information.
The birth-date exception will harm the ability of the press — and every citizen — to investigate public employees. While many names are very common, the combination of a name and birth date makes it possible to track one bad employee from job to job or uncover pension fraud. It helped reporters at The Seattle Times track teachers and coaches who transferred between districts after being accused of inappropriate relationships with students. The public wants and needs the news media to bring stories like the “Coaches who Prey” series to light.
The Legislature should not work to keep information from the public, even if it is a top goal of the Washington Federation of State Employees.