Editor’s note: Today’s editorials orginally appeared in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and the Yakima Herald-Republic. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
State legislators write the law, but that does not mean they are above it. Sadly, that reality has not fully sunk in with a great many now serving in the Washington state Legislature.
On Monday, that petulance was once again on display as a state senator yanked from consideration a piece of legislation prescribing which records of state lawmakers would be made public.
“I told you guys, if the media pooped all over it, it was dead,” Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. “It’s dead.”
Good, it was a lousy proposal.
Pedersen later added: “It was very clear that there was no opportunity for any good faith negotiations. I was trying to find a compromise but there is no compromise available.”
Pedersen and other lawmakers were trying to reach compromises on ways to circumvent the law. This is not something the public should accept.
State legislators must follow the same laws as everybody else. Period.
And this is exactly why media and other staunch supporters of open public records blasted this proposal at a hearing last week.
Pedersen’s proposal was a reaction to a lawsuit filed in 2017 by a media coalition led by The Associated Press that argues individual lawmakers are covered by the state public disclosure law despite their efforts to ignore it. A Thurston County judge agreed and the decision is now on appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In the end, we are confident that the Thurston County ruling will be upheld.
Last year the Legislature approved a law that exempted its members from parts of the Open Records Act. The public was outraged, and as a result more than 20,000 members of the public contacted Gov. Jay Inslee’s office urging him to veto that legislation — which he did. Individual lawmakers were also flooded with emails and phone calls.
A task force with members from the Legislature and the media was formed. The task force’s final recommendation — a call for more transparency — sounded promising but the effort at turning that into legislation didn’t match the push for transparency.
Lawmakers need to accept the reality that they, like locally elected officials, must follow the law. Local government officials seem to function just fine following the law.
When it comes to open government, seeking a compromise to avoid following the law isn’t the answer.
Up to courts, not law enforcement, to determine legality of gun law
We agree with law enforcement officials in Washington who believe that Initiative 1639, the state gun-control measure passed by voters last fall, is bad law.
But we part company with sheriffs and other law enforcement officials in at least 13 counties — including Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell and Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic — in their decisions not to enforce the law.
Law enforcement opposition is based on the belief that the initiative, which denies sale and possession of semi-automatic rifles to those under age 21, increases background checks, imposes a 10-day waiting period for purchasing those rifles and requires owners to securely store firearms, violates the Second Amendment. But sheriffs, prosecutors and police chiefs are not the arbiters of what is constitutional. That is a question for courts to decide.
Initiative 1639 passed by 59 percent statewide last November. Voters in Yakima County, like most other rural counties, opposed it; locally, 56 percent voted no. Initiative 1639’s legality is being challenged by the National Rifle Association and the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation, and that’s the proper course to take. Their lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson believes the new law is constitutional and his office will defend it in court.
We editorialized against the initiative’s placement on the ballot due to irregularities with how ballot language was presented during the petition-gathering process — indeed, we often eschew citizen initiatives because they don’t undergo the same scrutiny and vetting applied to bills in the Legislature. And we editorialized against its passage. Among the primary reasons: Initiative sponsors were disingenuous in labelling it as regulating sale of “semiautomatic assault rifles,” when in fact it targeted any kind of semiautomatic long gun, including hunting rifles and small-caliber guns used for plinking and target practice.
Most of the law doesn’t take effect until July 1, and it’s not clear exactly what aspects of the initiative these sheriffs wouldn’t enforce. Ferguson, in an open letter to sheriffs and police chiefs, singled out enhanced background checks for concern, warning that failure to conduct them could open law officers to liability if a newly purchased semiautomatic rifle is used in a crime. Sheriffs and police departments are already required to conduct enhanced background checks for handgun purchases — which are also prohibited to those under age 21. There isn’t uniformity in opposition to that provision for semiautomatic rifles.
The only provision that took effect Jan. 1 was the prohibition of sales to anyone under 21. There’s scant evidence that gun store owners won’t comply, though a Tri-Cities store owner said he could skirt that requirement on a technicality because the definition of what qualifies as a “semiautomatic assault rifle” is in a section of the law that doesn’t take effect until July (again, another problem with the initiative process).
There is not unanimity in opposition to enforcement. Locally, Yakima interim police Chief Gary Jones says he’s duty bound to enforce I-1639. Several sheriffs, including those in Walla Walla, Chelan and Spokane counties, disagree with their colleagues.
Regardless of personal opinions, local law enforcement officials — sheriffs, prosecutors, police chiefs — don’t determine constitutionality of laws. They must enforce the law and allow legal challenges to run their course.
Meeting the expectations of voters, who ultimately decide who serves in the Legislature, is what must happen.