Opinion: Transparency on trial: Governor Inslee, the people need your help


Governor Jay Inslee at an EWU Young Democrats event held in October 2016. | The Easterner Archives

By Logan Camporeale, Special Contributor

Editor’s note: Logan Camporeale graduated with a master’s degree in History from EWU in Spring 2017. 

On Feb. 23, while you were most likely finishing up homework and thinking about your weekend plans, our elected representatives in the Washington State Legislature rushed to pass a law that ensured their secret political activities would remain in the shadows. Now, only Governor Inslee can stop them.

In 1972, Washington state adopted the Public Records Act as the result of a people’s initiative passed by over 70 percent of voters. The law was a reaction to corruption and a bold attempt by the people to remain informed and in control of government functions. The bill’s preamble captures the purpose of the legislation perfectly: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”

The Senate and House, with utter disregard for transparent government, passed Senate Bill 6617 exempting themselves from the disclosure requirements that all other government entities in the state must comply with. As a state employee myself, all records that I create as part of my work duties, including my emails and calendar, are public record and can be requested by any person at any time. This may seem onerous to state agencies, and it is time-consuming, but it is the only means for citizens to hold their government accountable. Our representatives have decided that they should not be held to the same standard as other state employees like myself. Do you think they may have something to hide?

This flagrant and ill-intentioned bill was the legislature’s reactionary response to a Thurston County Court decision in January. The judge in that case ruled in favor of news agencies who had requested calendars and emails from legislators but were denied due to a cited, yet dubious, “exemption” to the Public Records Act. The judge ruled that legislators were not exempt from the Public Records Act and that they must provide access to the requested documents.

One might think that in light of this court decision, the legislature would be eager to meet their disclosure expectations. But, instead of increasing transparency and conforming to the rules, our representatives decided it would be easier and more convenient to rewrite the rules of public record disclosure for themselves. The result is SB 6617.

The preamble of SB 6617 strikes an awfully different tone than that of the Public Records Act. It argues that “to protect the independence of legislative deliberations against interference by the other branches, the state Constitution provides that legislators are immune from civil process during the legislative session, and they are likewise immune from any civil or criminal liability for words spoken in debate.” The preamble explains that legislators cannot be held responsible for things they say or do on the job, and therefore there is no reason for them to be subject to wide-ranging public disclosure laws.

Apparently SB 6617, and the shroud of secrecy it offered, was appealing to our legislators, so much so that over 80 percent of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle voted in favor of the bill. They had a high level of conviction, despite seeking little or no input from their constituents. Now it is Governor Inslee’s duty to veto this poorly crafted bill, and send it back to the Senate to force legislators to engage with their constituents and reconsider this bill.

State and local government workers, and especially our elected officials, should remain accountable to the citizens of the State of Washington. We put them in power and we pay their salaries. The Public Records Act is the people’s tool to ensure the government is functioning in the way that the citizens had intended.

The preamble of the Public Records Act reads, “The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”

Governor Inslee, please give us a chance to stay informed and in control—veto Senate Bill 6617.