OLYMPIA- Thursday night Governor Jay Inslee put a halt to a bill seeking to exempt Washington lawmakers from the state’s Public Records Act just hours before the bill was set to become law. Legislators also agreed not to take another vote to override the veto.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure last week without debate or public hearing. It was drafted in response to an appeal of recent court ruling in Whatcom County that required the release of lawmakers private emails.
SB 6617 would have made some legislative records public, such as lawmakers’ calendars and their email exchanges with registered lobbyists. But their private cell phone and emails are off limits under the new legislation. It also prevents people from challenging this records law in court. Representatives Mike Steele, Cary Condotta and State Senator Brad Hawkins all voted in favor of the bill. Condotta and Steele explain their thought process on the bill in an interview on the 12th District.
Inslee issued a statement saying quote I believe the Legislature’s overwhelming vote on the bill was a good faith attempt to increase disclosure and transparency.” Letters signed by House and Senate Democrats and delivered to Inslee said legislators made a mistake by failing to go through a full public hearing process.
In his statement Inslee went on to say he told legislators he would let the bill become law if they delivered it with enough votes to override a veto, but added “that was before I saw the process which failed to meet public expectations for openness, and delivered a bill that fell short.”
Inslee’s full statement:
“The public’s right to government information is one we hold dearly in Washington. Transparency is a cornerstone of a democratic government, and I’m very proud of my administration’s record on public disclosure. I believe legislators will find they can fulfill their duties while being fully transparent, just like state and local governments all across Washington.”
“I want to thank the legislators who have reconsidered this bill and asked me for this veto tonight. Since this bill passed, my office and lawmakers have heard an unprecedented level of response from the public. Those messages were heard loudly and clearly. I now hope lawmakers, the media, and other stakeholders will work together to resolve differences through a process the public can have faith in.”
“I believe the Legislature’s overwhelming vote on the bill was a good faith attempt to increase disclosure and transparency. Though I expressed concerns about the outline of the bill, I did tell legislators I would let the bill become law if they delivered it with enough votes to override a veto. However, that was before I saw the process which failed to meet public expectations for openness and delivered a bill that fell short.”
“I appreciate that both sides have been open to discussions during the past few days and will work together to find the right approach to this important issue.”