OLYMPIA — Washington’s legislative leaders said Thursday that when they meet for the 2020 legislative session, they won’t curtail the state Supreme Court’s ruling that lawmakers must disclose documents under the Public Records Act.
The statements come after the court last month ruled on a lawsuit brought in 2017 by 10 news organizations — including The Seattle Times and The Associated Press — that challenged the Legislature’s self-claimed exemption.
That exemption has allowed state lawmakers to withhold documents such as emails, text messages, calendars and investigative reports — even as local and state government routinely release such records.
On Thursday, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andy Billig, of Spokane, cited the Legislature’s preparations last year to begin handling requests, such as hiring public-records officers for each the House and Senate.
Speaking during The Associated Press preview for the legislative session that is scheduled to start Monday, Billig said his own office is responding to requests.
“And I do not expect legislation related to the Legislature” and the Public Records Act, he added.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said his office is responding to requests and “I doubt there will be any action” to change the law.
House GOP Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox of Yelm said, “Request away, I’m happy to comply.”
Like the 2018 Thurston County Superior Court ruling in the case, the Supreme Court last month ruled that individual lawmakers’ offices are “agencies” and thus subject to the general public records disclosure mandate under current law.
The legal challenge has twice spurred lawmakers to try to change the law before the Supreme Court could rule.
Shortly after 2018’s lower court ruling, legislators released and approved a bill — in 48 hours — to exempt themselves from the Public Records Act. That plan would have made some documents, such as emails from lobbyists, public going forward.
After fierce outcry from the public, Gov. Jay Inslee — who got about 19,000 letters, calls and emails, almost all opposed to the legislation — vetoed the bill.
Democratic lawmakers in 2019 then proposed a plan that would have opened up additional documents as “a good-faith offer at a compromise” while the lawsuit awaited arguments before the state Supreme Court and a ruling.
Legislators, however, shelved that bill after criticism from open-government advocates and news organizations.