Citizens on Wednesday will get to voice their thoughts on the latest bill by Washington lawmakers to reset transparency laws at the Legislature. Senate Bill 5784 comes after last year's court ruling that legislative leaders violated state public records law by withholding documents.
OLYMPIA — Washington residents on Wednesday will get to voice their thoughts on the latest bill by state lawmakers to rewrite transparency laws governing their own records at the Legislature.
The public hearing on Senate Bill 5784 is scheduled to take place at the 8:30 a.m. Wednesday meeting of the Senate Committee on State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections. The hearing can be streamed at TVW.org.
Wednesday’s hearing is the latest skirmish over whether and how lawmakers fit into Washington’s 1972 voter-approved public-disclosure law.
Under that law, local and state government agencies routinely release documents like emails and memos, calendars and investigations into allegations of misconduct. But the Legislature has long claimed itself exempt from that law.
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That changed last year, when a Thurston County court ruled that legislative leaders broke the law by withholding documents requested by several news organizations.
That legal challenge — brought by news organizations including The Seattle Times and The Associated Press — has been appealed and is expected to go before the state Supreme Court later this year.
In response to that ruling, lawmakers last year swiftly introduced and passed legislation that exempted them from the Public Records Act and made some records public — like communications with lobbyists — going forward.
That bill — and lawmakers’ rushed process on it — drew widespread criticism. Approximately 19,000 people contacted the office of Gov. Jay Inslee, who ultimately vetoed the legislation.
This year, legislators have vowed to be more transparent, even as they seek to carve out wide exemptions for themselves.
The current proposal does several things that last year’s legislation didn’t do: It doesn’t remove the Legislature from the Public Records Act and it doesn’t keep secret all records from prior to the legislation taking effect. If a request for records is denied, the bill would give the requester the right to ask for a judge’s opinion — something last year’s bill also didn’t do.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, has called his legislation “a good-faith offer at a compromise.”
But open-government advocates have questioned how the bill treats records related to investigations of alleged workplace harassment at the Legislature. And they have raised the possibility that SB 5784’s exemptions are so broad they could possibly close off even some legislative records that are available now.