Legislative Session 2019: A Mixed Success.

Legislative Session 2019: A Mixed Success

The Washington State Legislature ended its 105-day session on April 28, giving WCOG mixed success in our legislative priorities for 2019 and several issues to keep watching. For the Coalition’s top issues:

  1. Treat Legislative Records the Same as Other Public Records – Three legislative records bills were introduced. SB 5784 died shortly after a public hearing, and the other two didn’t even get hearings. Oral argument before the state Supreme Court on the legislative records case are now scheduled for June 11, and we anticipate a ruling in the fall; then, we’ll see how the legislature reacts.
  2. Advisory Committee Meetings should be Open to the Public – SHB 1782 got out of committee but didn’t get a vote on the floor of the House. We’ll pursue it again next year.
  3. Reimburse Records Requestors Forced to Defend against an Injunction – The Sunshine Committee recommended this with regard to trade secret lawsuits but SHB 1538 failed to pass the House. We’ll continue to work for this reform and to expand it to all injunction actions.
  4. Public Employee Birthdates Must Remain Public – HB 1888 was defeated.

WCOG’s lesser legislative priorities saw success in two areas: Extending the local government grant program created a couple of years ago in HB 1594 (ESHB 1667), and passage of the Sunshine Committee recommendations from 2017 (HB 1537). In general, the Coalition was successful at quashing bad bills, but found it more challenging to promote new action. Of the 88 bills WCOG identified as having some impact on open government, 24 passed the legislature.

Of the eight bills WCOG supported:

  • ESHB 1379 – Passed – Requires unwinding layers of political committees so that the original persons who made donations are identified.
  • HB 1537 – Passed – Sunshine Committee recommendation to clarify that applications for appointment to fill a vacancy in public office are subject to disclosure.
  • ESHB 1667 (companion SB 5667) – Passed – Eliminates the expiration date on the local government records technology grant program and the local government consultation programs provided by the attorney general and the state archives. Also clarifies performance metrics that agencies report to JLARC.
  • SHB 1538 (companion SB 5246) – Failed – Would have enacted additional Sunshine Committee recommendations on the following: disclosing applications for public employment other than for vacancies in elective office; disclosing public employee residence city, state, and zip codes; exempting public employee passport and visa numbers; proprietary data, trade secrets, or other information submitted vendor to DSHS regarding state purchased health care; trade secrets; and disclosing bids on public projects after selection of a successful bidder to rejection of all bids.
  • SHB 1782 – Failed – Would have required meetings of advisory committees of governing bodies to be open to the public.
  • SB 5221 – Failed – Basically the same as 1379, although not officially a companion bill; the legislature passed 1379 instead.

Here’s a summary of the status of the eight bills on which WCOG took a position of “Oppose

  • SHB 1195 (companion SB 5112) – Passed – Eviscerates the citizen lawsuit provision of campaign finance law by saying the attorney general can “take action” on a complaint by simply announcing they don’t intend to take any other; other parts of the bill are OK.
  • ESHB 1692 – Passed – Makes it more difficult for state employees accused of workplace sexual harassment to get records they need to clear their name. The final language is better than the original bill which could have been interpreted as allowing an agency to refused records requests from any requester deemed to be a harasser, including harassing the agency with requests.
  • EHB 2020 – Passed – Extends the duration of the exemption for the identity of victims and witnesses of workplace discrimination or harassment beyond the end of the investigation, making the identities permanent exempt unless the victim or witness gives their permission to release their names. Makes it more difficult to do news reporting on public workplace discrimination or harassment.
  • SB 5784 – Failed – Would have integrated disclosure of legislative public records into the PRA but retained most of the same problems as SB 6617 in 2018.
  • SB 5787 – Failed – Would have allowed small agencies to delay responding to public records requests until after their next board meeting or 30 days, which makes no sense when it’s so easy for even the smallest agency to have an email account, web site, or both.
  • HB 1888 – Failed – Would have exempted public employee birthdates from disclosure, and mandated that whenever personal information about a public employee would be released in response to a request that both the employee and their labor union be notified and given at least 10 days to file an injunction blocking release.
  • HB 2115 – Failed – Another bad legislative public records bill.

We identified 16 bills that created new public records exemptions this session. There may be more, since some exemptions are added through last-minute amendments, or were referenced deep in a bill and not readily identified. We will work with the Attorney General’s open government ombuds to produce a complete list, so they can be added to the list for eventual review by the Sunshine Committee. The bills that create the new exemptions are 1295, 1302, 1385, 1399, 1505, 1673, 1692, 2020, 2067, 5027, 5107, 5135, 5439, 5461, 5511, and 5526.

WCOG appreciates the efforts of its members and supporters calling and emailing legislators and defending the right of the public to know what our government is doing!

— Toby Nixon