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They decide.

That's the message from state lawmakers to the public last week when they made changes to the Public Records Act at break-neck speed. They weren't speaking for We the People. They spoke for themselves.

Now it's time for the people to speak up. There may still be time.

First we ask that Gov. Jay Inslee use his veto power against SB 6617, despite the likelihood it will be overridden. We hope he will continue to lead by example, and a veto is a clear sign of that leadership.

We're asking you, the public, to back him up.

This newspaper generally tries to stay out of the fray and shine a light on information so the public can decide for themselves. But lawmakers are putting a heavy shade over that light.

We think it's wrong for lawmakers anywhere in the United States to assume they can operate in secret. Yes, that includes emails from constituents, which are just part of what these lawmakers are trying to hide from scrutiny.

By their definition, anyone who isn't a registered lobbyist is a constituent. In an age when so much business is conducted through email, hiding the electronic communications of elected officials from public eyes is the same as conducting the public's business under cover.

What led to the "emergency" passage of this legislation first presented Wednesday and passed Friday?

Here is why: The revisions will apply retroactively and immediately, which would block the pursuit by a coalition of news organizations, including The Associated Press, to get documents related to sexual harassment complaints against House and Senate members. The Thurston County Superior Court recently handed the lawmakers a loss. The court said the Public Records Act does indeed apply to them.

So our legislators rewrote the law, and the impact goes far beyond this court case.

The law also includes protection of information that might invade a person's right to privacy. The law says that privacy is invaded if disclosure "would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and is not of legitimate concern to the public."

Who decides what offends and what is of true concern? An elected House member and a senator chosen by their peers to serve as chief clerk and secretary. Meanwhile, that chosen pair also can delete details when publishing any legislative public record.

There are plenty more exemptions and loopholes that provide solid shielding for any lawmaker seeking cover.

Worst of all, they've removed the ability to sue. That puts an end to the court case and strips the public of due process.

So what are they hiding? Whatever they want.

Ironically, the following portion of the law remains unchanged, though the lawmakers apparently failed to read it:

"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. 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. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy and to assure that the public interest will be fully protected."

Remind your lawmakers they still work for you.

Let them know their actions will be remembered in November. This attack on the people's government will not stand.


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