If someone files a sexual harassment complaint against a member of the Washington Legislature, you’d want to know about it, right?
If a citizen writes his legislator to complain about a state agency, or asks for special favors for himself or his business, you’d likely want to know about that, too.
Then you should know about a repugnant, last-minute bill the Legislature is ramming through without any public scrutiny.
Senate Bill 6617 was filed by Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson and Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler and is expected to pass both chambers this weekend.
The bill is a blatant attempt to circumvent the state Public Records Act and negate the effect of a January court ruling that found it is illegal for state legislators to refuse to release their correspondence, emails, calendars and other working documents to the public.
S.B. 6617 would exempt disclosure of communications with “constituents.” That is anyone who doesn’t register as a lobbyist or anyone who employs someone who registers as a lobbyist; a government employee who is paid to be a lobbyist; an organization that does grassroots lobbying requiring registration; and elected officials, or individuals, who are acting on behalf of such people.
There is a lot at stake here: Without access to government documents — including lawmakers’ emails and text messages — members of the public can’t know who is trying to influence public policy and who is seeking special treatment.
There is at least one other odious aspect to S.B. 6617, and it’s almost unbelievable in light of the #MeToo movement: It would bar the release of any sexual harassment complaints against elected representatives until a determination is made by the Executive Rules Committee of the House of Representatives and the Facilities and Operations Committee of the Senate. This will make it easy to shove complaints under the rug and make sure they never see the light of day.
There is no due process. The allows the Executive Rules Committee of the House of Representatives and the Facilities and Operations Committee of the Senate the review of any dispute over the release of records and their ruling is final. Should there be a dispute between them, the original ruling is final. No action can be brought against them in any venue of any kind, so you cannot sue in any court.
The bill has an emergency clause and it would be retroactive through statehood in the 19th century.
Sens. Nelson and Schoesler have been working on this secretly through the session and the first time most legislators even year about it was the middle of last week. It will have no public hearings or go through normal lawmaking channels. The strategy clearly was intended to give the Legislature time before its planned March 8 adjournment to override a potential veto by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Inslee regularly releases his emails, calendar and other records requested by the media. Local and state agencies and officials already are required to disclose most of their documents to the public. Why should the Legislature exempt itself from what the law requires of others? It smacks of a “trust me” attitude that goes against the need for transparency and honest government.
Don’t give up on silica battle
It’s now been more than five years since Longview switched its water source from the Cowlitz River to the Mint Farm artesian wells. As we learned in a story from reporter Rose Lundy last week, the city is now getting far fewer complaints than it did just a couple of years ago.
As many will remember, the switch in 2013 was fraught with problems. Relocating the water treatment source meant reversing the direction of flow in many city mains. As a result, much of the mineral buildup lining the pipes was knocked loose and dissolved into the water. Many residents throughout Longview, especially in the Highlands, experienced discolored, smelly and bitter water.
In response, the city has replaced thousands of feet of water main and undertaken projects to improve the water by reducing iron and manganese levels. Next month, it will complete a $1 million oxygen injection system to improve the smell and taste. The city has spent more than $12.6 million to improve the well water on top of the $35 million cost of the Mint Farm itself,
While these efforts have dramatically improve water quality, consumer complaints about silica continue. We’ve heard from numerous readers about the need to replace expensive appliances — dishwashers, refrigerators, washing machines — because of silica buildup.
In the Lundy’s story, one appliance repair shop owner said his business has seen a dramatic increase in service calls since the city made the water switch and that household appliances are deteriorating three to four times faster.
Finding a solution to the silica problem remains elusive. Studies showed that returning to the Cowlitz and building a Ranney collector system like Kelso’s would not make the water any less laden with silica. And adding silica treatment to the Mint Farm system would be costly, with estimates that it would add $12 a month to an average user’s monthly water bill.
The council has balked at this expense, but perhaps the decision should be left to voters. This isn’t a new idea. Many residents suggested it in 2015. Voters, rather than the council, best know what they are willing to pay for water — and whether it’s worth not having to replace appliances so often.
In any case, it’s unacceptable to give up the fight: In 2015, Councilman Mike Wallin said, “What to do with the Mint Farm is admit when a mistake has been made — a mistake has been made and needs to be corrected.”
The city shouldn’t give up looking for options.