Lawmakers continue efforts to keep secrets in Olympia.
House Bill 1888 would obscure the identity of state employees, making it harder to hold them accountable. Public-employee unions are pushing this by exploiting members’ fears of identity theft.
HB 2466 would let legislators keep secret the identity of people communicating with them, including those seeking favors. Introduced by state Rep. Gerry Pollet, it’s a bundle of rules ostensibly to help legislators comply with the act, an obligation affirmed by the state Supreme Court in December. The Seattle Democrat does good advocacy for transparency but HB2466 should not proceed.
As written, HB2466 would also let lawmakers delete voice messages at will, before people can request these public records.
That’s not complying. The act says: “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.”
Legislators are scrambling to comply, but that can be done administratively. Tweaking the act is fraught with peril, since some still balk at disclosure.
How quickly it seems legislators forget the Supreme Court ruling that says they don’t get special treatment. They must now disclose just like other state agencies, legislative bodies and municipalities. The act already protects sensitive information, such as medical and financial information, that could put people at risk.
Yet HB2466 presumes legislator communications are unique, deserving special cloaking. Wrong. There should be less cloaking because potential for misbehavior is high in Olympia.
The bill’s assertion that legislators may delete messages to save space on phones is outrageous. They get state phones with cloud messaging. Their messages should be retained off the device, in virtually limitless servers.
Legislators offer a hypothetical worst case to justify hiding the identity of people contacting them. What if someone shares medical information when asking for help with a state agency? That’s already settled: follow best practices of other agencies equally likely to receive sensitive information.
Imagine Bill Gates asking legislators for help getting regulators’ permission to allow more sand on his beach, because gravel aggravates a foot condition. That would be secret under HB2466.
What if major campaign donors ask the higher-education chair to help get their math-challenged child into the University of Washington computer-science program? Such potential quid pro quo would be secret. HB2466 says “the entire record may be exempt under this legislation if disclosure of the redacted record contains enough information that a person’s identity could become known.”
Meanwhile, in real life, unions are seeking a Records-Act loophole with HB1888. It’s because they’re feuding with a group trying to inform workers they aren’t obligated to pay fees. Instead of countering with facts, they’re trying to make it harder to identify state employees, under the guise of protecting privacy.
HB 1888 would block the state from releasing birth dates, a standard tool used by government for years to differentiate people with similar names. The dates appear on voter rolls, court records and other public documents. Pollet notes legislators campaign with door-belling apps listing constituents’ birth dates.
There was little concern about these disclosures until unions began trying to prevent the conservative Freedom Foundation from contacting members. Suddenly, they’re a dire threat.
Legislators hearing this fear-mongering should note the lack of evidence that public-record birth dates are enabling crime. Existing laws allow harassment victims to conceal addresses. As for state employees, they unavoidably lose some privacy, by choosing to work for the public. The public gets to know who it pays.
Whatever the slight privacy risk from disclosure of birth dates must be balanced with the verified risk of obscuring public-employee identities.
Birth dates were necessary for this newspaper to identify coaches who sexually abused students, yet were allowed to continue coaching.
More recently, this newspaper used birth dates to obtain and verify records of former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, including an Oregon state investigation concluding he sexually abused a foster son.
Who would legislators protect, by allowing more secrecy?