By Sandy Stokes
The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association is deeply disturbed by the Legislature’s action to limit the public’s right to know.
As of Friday (Feb. 23), the state’s lawmakers and their staffs are no longer subject to the state’s Public Records Act.
Most problematic is the way our elected officials went about this. They crafted the law in secret, and with less than a day’s notice and without public comment, they made it effective immediately and retroactive to the time of statehood.
Last month a Superior Court judge ruled that the state Legislature is subject to the Public Records Act, just like every other elected official throughout the state.
In the wake of that ruling, the Legislature introduced Senate Bill 6617 to write themselves out of the Public Records Act. By declaring it an emergency, they circumvented the usual process, which involves notice to the public and open hearings before committees. Then they rushed it into law two days after it was introduced and with less than two weeks left in this legislative session.
The sponsors are being disingenuous when they say the law is a move toward transparency with its provision that future communications with lobbyists will be subject to disclosure.
What the law really does is shield from disclosure communication with anyone who is not officially registered as a lobbyist in the state of Washington.
This opens the door to abuse, as representatives of large corporations, lawyers for special interests and mega donors can be treated as “constituents” whose privacy needs protecting.
To see how each of the 147 legislators in both chambers voted, call up bill number 6617 at leg.wa.gov.
Sandy Stokes is president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents weekly and small daily newspapers, and other organizations, around the state.