We usually don't spend much time worrying about the state of Washington's politics, but the current battle over whether that state's Legislature needs to comply with public records laws is worth noting.
The battle would be timely at any time of the year, but it's particularly noteworthy this month, which includes Sunshine Week, the annual week devoted to the proposition that government works best when it operates in the open.
Here's the background behind the Washington battle: Lawmakers there last week approved a bill that essentially exempts the Legislature from Washington's voter-approved Public Records Law. According to The Seattle Times, the bill was approved 48 hours after it was announced and without hearings or floor debate.
Washington legislators long have argued that they're exempt from the Public Records Law, but the bill was placed on the fast track after a judge in January disagreed with that interpretation. The judge's ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of media groups, led by The Associated Press.
It's worth noting that the bill retroactively removes the state's legislative branch from the state's Public Records Act so that the records sought by the media groups would be permanently shielded.
According to The Associated Press, exemptions from disclosure would include records of policy development, as well as any records that would "violate an individual's right to privacy." While final disciplinary reports against lawmakers would be subject to disclosure, emails or other documentation of allegations of things like sexual harassment or misconduct that doesn't result in an official report — which were among the records the news coalition was seeking — would not. Any person wanting to challenge a records denial would have to seek review by legislative committees. Courts would not be allowed to review denials.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee seemed poised to veto the bill on Thursday, but hadn't announced his decision at the time we were writing this editorial. It may be a moot point, anyway: The bill passed both Washington chambers by what would appear to be veto-proof margins.
Inslee did say earlier on Thursday that his office had received nearly 20,000 calls and emails about the bill. The vast majority of them were expressing opposition to the bill. There would be appear to be little downside to a veto in this case: At the minimum, it would force Washington lawmakers to explain to their constituents why they see fit to carry on the public's business in secret.
And here's a little reminder to our Oregon lawmakers, who are in the process of wrapping up their short session in Salem: Don't you dare try anything like this at home. (mm)
Thanks, Rep. Olson
State Rep. Andy Olson this week announced plans to retire from the House of Representatives at the end of his term this year, wrapping up 14 years of service to his Albany district.
"I plan to serve out the remainder of my term and then enjoy some sunshine in Arizona for a few weeks," he said. "The time is right."
We don't begrudge the 65-year-old Olson the opportunity to soak up some rays; he's certainly earned that. (Make sure to wear sunscreen, though.)
But it's always a little bit sad when an experienced and effective legislator decides to hang it up. Olson earned both of those adjectives. He frequently found himself in the middle of the hottest legislative topics — transportation, for example, or legalized marijuana, and consistently did good work, even on the most contentious topics, for his Albany district and Oregon.
One of the hallmarks of Olson's tenure was a consistent willingness to reach across the aisle to get important legislation passed; his recent bill to close a loophole in the state law regarding hit-and-run collisions is just the most recent example. That's an example that Olson's eventual successor would do well to emulate. (mm)