State lawmakers are not above the law — or, at least, they shouldn't be.
Legislators must be subject to the state's voter-approved Public Records Act just like locally elected officials on city councils and school boards.
Yet, lawmakers in Olympia — including 16th District Reps. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, and Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser — moved at light speed (compared to other legislative actions) last week to exempt themselves from having their documents made public. (Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, was absent from the vote last week.)
Senate Bill 6617 passed the Senate without public hearing or debate 41-7 and then the House approved it 83-14 — just 48 hours after the proposal was made public.
We strongly urge Gov. Jay Inslee to veto this lousy legislation that is an affront to good government.
This is not a partisan matter. Democrats, who control the Senate and House, brought Republicans in on their scheme to shield themselves from public scrutiny. What are lawmakers trying to hide?
In addition, SB 6617 contains an "emergency" clause that allows it to take effect as soon as Inslee signs it and, because of a clause making it retroactive, the legislation can't be challenged in court.
This legislation was concocted in a panic after a Thurston County judge wisely ruled that emails, text messages and other documents held by state lawmakers are public records and thus subject to public disclosure. The decision stemmed from a lawsuit by The Associated Press, The Seattle Times (owner of the Union-Bulletin) and media across the state challenging lawmakers' lack of transparency.
But this isn't about media access, it's about public access — the people's access.
The people — voters — have a right to know what their employees in the House and Senate are doing on the job. It should be no different to the rules that apply to other elected officials.
So, in exempting themselves, representatives and senators are essentially saying "do as I say, not as I do."
Nealey and Jenkin said they supported the exemption because they felt it was important to protect the privacy of constituents who communicate with them.
That's a stretch.
When people reach out to their elected representatives in the Legislature, few — if any — have an expectation of privacy. In fact, most folks reaching out to lawmakers feel so strongly about their views they would be happy to shout them from a soap box at Land Title Plaza on Main Street.
The Legislature is a public body in which its members serve at the pleasure of the people. The people have a right to know what their lawmakers are doing.
What was done in Olympia last week was an affront to the public. Inslee must veto it as a strong stand for open, transparent government.