Last Wednesday, outside of the normal legislative processes, the state Senate took up a bill that essentially exempts legislators from state public records laws.
By Friday, the measure had passed the Senate and House with veto-proof margins.
Today, it sits on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk awaiting his signature, or possibly a courageous veto.
Senate Bill 6617 generally exempts members of the Legislature from having to turn over records on employees, harassment claims, journals, travel logs and receipts, meeting transcripts, you name it.
Instead of following state law — and last month’s state Supreme Court in a public records lawsuit — two senators pushed the last-minute bill to give them political and other cover from the law, and taxpayers.
No, they weren’t both Democrats. And no, they weren’t both Republicans.
In fact, the two senators looking to circumvent public disclosure are none other than Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, a Democrat from Maury Island, and Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville Republican.
Unfortunately, nearly every legislator from eastern Washington bought into the misguided, inappropriate legislation. The lone exception appears to be Sen. Maureen Walsh, a Republican from College Place. She was absent during the Senate vote.
The last-minute power play would force you and me to ask the secretary of the Senate or House for records that individual lawmakers may hold. In doing so, it would give political cover to individual lawmakers, as well as the Senate and House as a whole, when it comes to records held by individual legislators and their employees.
This move is a direct assault on government transparency, and a shot across the bow of the state Constitution.
Our Constitution says in Article I Section I that “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”
But that power is inherent only when the people are able to monitor the activities of those they elect.
When it comes to many government agencies these days, I feel like Diogenes the Cynic.
Diogenes was a Greek philosopher who died more than 2,300 years ago. Greek history has it that he used to walk around during daylight hours carrying a lantern. When asked why, he would tell people he was just looking for an honest man. History has it that he couldn’t find any.
When it comes to this abomination of a bill giving special treatment to legislators, I may have to agree with Diogenes, at least when it comes to the lawmakers who vote for it.
I’ve always been impressed with Sen. Schoesler’s efforts on behalf of our state, and specifically eastern Washington. But sponsoring a bill such as this brings my experience into question.
Coalition for Open Government Director Toby Nixon called the move on the bill “despicable,” an “outrage,” and a “ridiculous assault on transparency.” Furthermore, he calls the bill “TERRIBLE.”
I couldn’t agree more.
This bill was introduced and moved after several legislative deadlines have passed. It came from behind closed doors, with virtually no input from the people who own the records — you and me, the residents and taxpayers of Washington state.
Lawmakers and their employees work for us. The records they hold were bought and paid for by you and me. And we should not be given the runaround by lawmakers who, it would appear, may have something to hide.
That will give me food for thought the next time our elected legislators are on the ballot vying to return to Olympia. I can’t consciously vote for or endorse a candidate who puts themself above the public. Nor can I support a candidate who would, well, cover their own you-know-what by creating a special exemption for themself.
I trust you, too, will consider sweeping the Legislature clean of those who would rather give us the runaround than disclose the public records you and I own.
In the meantime, I’m going to head to the local hardware store to see if I can find a lantern bright enough to illuminate the darkness of backroom politics in Olympia.
Roger Harnack is the publisher and editor of The Daily Sun. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.