Legislature Backtracks on Ducking Public Records Act; Governor Vetoes SB 6617 With Promise of New Bill.

Legislature Backtracks on Ducking Public Records Act; Governor Vetoes SB 6617 With Promise of New Bill

Less than a week after the Washington State Legislature fast-tracked a bill exempting itself from the Public Records Act, drawing outrage from voters and media, Gov. Jay Inslee has vetoed the bill at the urging of lawmakers who now promise to work with stakeholders on new legislation for consideration in the 2019 legislative session.

Gov. Inslee vetoed the bill just hours before the midnight deadline March 1, when SB 6617 would have taken effect without his signature. He cited requests from legislators in both parties and from both houses of the legislature, who apparently heard from constituents about the fast-tracked legislation that would have exempted the state legislature from Washington’s Public Records Act.

“We’re pleased that Governor Inslee decided to veto SB 6617, and for all those citizens across the state whose expressions of outrage led to this outcome,” said Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. “We hope that those legislators who have committed to vote against an override carry the day, and that this ugly episode will be behind us. May the legislature never again try to jam through a bill of such impact using a process anything like this.”

The governor’s office reported receiving more than 19,000 calls and emails since passage of SB 6617, the vast majority urging Gov. Inslee to veto the measure both for its content and for the process of its passage, which included no hearings, little testimony and minimal debate.

“When the people enacted Initiative 276, they intended for it to apply to every branch of state and local government. WCOG looks forward to actively participating in a thorough and deliberative stakeholder process, as should have taken place before the introduction of SB 6617, to provide the greatest possible access to legislative records under the Public Records Act while addressing concerns raised by legislators about constituent privacy and other matters,” Nixon added.

The legislature’s quick action was prompted in part because of a January Thurston County court ruling that individual state legislators and senators are subject to the Public Records Act, in a suit brought by the Associated Press and numerous local news organizations. The plaintiffs have now agreed to join the legislature in asking the judge for a stay of the order, pending the appeal. They also agreed not to seek an initiative or referendum to change present law while working with legislators on a task force to draft new legislation for the 2019 session, also suggested in the legislators’ letters to the governor. Michele Earl-Hubbard, WCOG vice-president, is representing the media plaintiffs in that lawsuit.

SB 6617 also drew strong opposition by the state’s media, including a sweep of unusual front-page editorials by at least 13 of the state’s daily newspapers urging Gov. Inslee to veto the bill.

Governor’s Statement

Media Plaintiffs Letter

House Democrats Letter

House Republicans letter

Senate Democrats Letter

More information about the legislation, including full text, schedule and media coverage here.