Legislative Update: Feb. 18, 2019.

Legislative Update: Feb. 18, 2019

The most important news this week is that a public hearing on the legislative public records bill, SB 5784, was held last Wednesday. Thanks to those who testified in Olympia in spite of the snow, or by phone! The bill is not dead yet, but the feedback we’re hearing is that the testimony against it was very effective and the bill is not likely to move this session. We’ll keep a close eye on it!

Seven more bills impacting on open government were introduced in the past week, for a total of 84 that we’re now tracking. The primary problems with the new bills are with cross-referencing of new exemptions from the PRA. The one bill of note is:

SB 5929/HB 2020 (Link) – Exempting the disclosure of names in employment investigation records. This bill amends the existing PRA exemption in 42.56.250(6) for records of active investigations of unfair labor practices and discrimination in employment to require that “After the agency has notified the complaining employee of the outcome of the investigation, the records may be disclosed only if the names of complainants, other accusers, and witnesses are redacted.” This is in some respects similar to the exemption for victim and witness identities in law enforcement records (42.56.240(2)), except that it does not require the agency to assert that “disclosure would endanger any person’s life, physical safety, or property.” This may encourage more victims of workplace harassment to come forward, but also means news reporting and public accountability will be more difficult.

The deadline for bills to be voted out of committee in their house of origin in this Friday, Feb. 22, so bill sponsors and committees are scrambling to get as many bills through as possible. Several bills that WCOG is supporting or opposing are scheduled for action in committee, including the following:

  • HB 1537 and HB 1538 (Sunshine Committee recommendations);
  • HB 1667 (extending the local government public records technology grant program and consultation programs);
  • HB 1782 (requires meetings of advisory committees to be open to the public, but needs some amendments);
  • HB 1195 (eviscerates the citizen action power within the Fair Campaign Practices Act);
  • HB 1692 (makes it more difficult for people accused of workplace harassment to get records to clear their name); and,
  • SB 5787 (allows some agencies to delay responding to public records requests for 30 days).

We also note that HB 1369, which would require political ads to disclose the actual top five contributors and not hide them under layers of political committees, is on the House 2nd Reading Calendar and could come up for a vote at any time. Its companion bill, SB 5221, is also on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar.

Here is our complete list of 2019 Legislative priorities.

Please email or call your legislators early this week about these and other bills you care about!