I am grateful for Governor Inslee’s courage and integrity in vetoing in its entirety SB 6617, our lawmakers’ ill-conceived effort to exempt themselves from Washington’s Public Records Act (PRA). It is simply beyond understanding how our legislators passed this so-called “emergency legislation” within a 48-hour period with no public process. Worse, the legislation eliminated the opportunity for citizens to appeal to a judge if public records requests were denied and also eliminated the possibility of reversing the legislation through public referendum.
I am also grateful for the 12,500 people who emailed Gov. Inslee and the 6,300 people who called his office to encourage his veto. Late to understanding citizen anger and frustration at this attempt to circumvent government transparency were our Vashon legislators. However, under the heat of the public outcry, Reps. Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon signed on to a letter to Gov. Inslee urging him to veto the bill so that the Legislature could convene a public task force to reconsider legislation next session. Kudos to Rep. Fitzgibbon for his forthright public acknowledgement of a poorly conceived process, “Mea culpa — we got it wrong,” as quoted from his Facebook page.
Certainly government entities can find the PRA to be challenging and inconvenient to deal with at times. However, the transparency the PRA provides serves to sustain integrity and enhance public trust in our governmental agencies. PRA rules also provide certain conditions for maintaining confidentiality as well as provisions for litigating denied requests. Since 1972, all public agencies, including school districts and city and state government, have been under PRA compliance. I urge our elected senator and representatives here on Vashon to support such transparency in government by embracing the PRA within the business of our Legislature. Sen. Sharon Nelson, in her role as majority leader, has a special opportunity and duty to act to ensure the Legislature’s business is conducted with transparency and integrity.
— Michael Soltman