Legislative Update: Jan. 20, 2019.

Legislative Update: Jan. 20, 2019

Here is the first WCOG Bill Status Report for the 2019 session. So far, legislation this session includes 34 bills that pertain to open government. Our initial assessment is that proponents of open government should support three of the bills, oppose two, and express concerns regarding 19. Please see the report for details on what the bills would do if passed and our analysis and recommendations.

The greatest concern is with HB 1195/SB 5112, which is a Public Disclosure Commission request bill. Most of it is fine, but Sections 39 and 40 would effectively eliminate the ability for individual citizens to file a lawsuit to enforce the Fair Campaign Practices Act (formerly the Public Disclosure Act) by allowing publication of a statement by the Attorney General of the intent to take no action to qualify as “action” by the AG. This would mean that it would no longer be possible for citizens to seek relief in the courts for campaign finance reporting or other FCPA violations, even if a politically-motivated attorney general is ignoring egregious violations. This citizen action provision has been part of the law since the people passed Initiative 276 in 1972, and should not be eliminated simply because some politicians have become irritated that citizens have started actually using it – but that’s exactly what is happening. It has been argued in the past that the ability for citizens to enforce the Public Records Act by direct action in the courts should be similarly eliminated and leave it to the government to police itself, and here’s another attempt at the same thing. We should not stand by and allow the evisceration of a citizen’s right to take action to enforce our open government laws. Note that there is a hearing on HB 1195 on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 1:30 p.m..

The bills we are supporting include SB 5246, which is the unanimous recommendations of the state Sunshine Committee, as well as HB 1379/SB 5221 which would require political ads to disclose the actual contributors to the committee running the ad and no longer allow the real constributors to be concealed under layers of political committees. There is a hearing on HB 1379 on Friday, Jan. 25 at 8 a.m.

If you are aware of any additional bills that should be on our watch list, or if you disagree with our analysis of or recommendation regarding any bills, please email me and let me know!

Here is our complete list of 2019 Legislative Priorities.

— Toby Nixon, President, Washington Coalition for Open Government