State Supreme Court Weighs Legislature’s Status under PRA.

State Supreme Court Weighs Legislature’s Status under PRA

The Washington State Supreme Court could rule at any time on AP et al v. Washington State Legislature, the media-led lawsuit to force state legislators to comply with the Public Records Act.

The State Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. WCOG vice-president Michele Earl-Hubbard is counsel for the Associated Press and a team of media organizations, which sued the Legislature in September 2017.

The Legislature contends it is not an “agency” covered under the PRA, and is instead a branch of government that can make its own rules. Members have also expressed concerns about the demands of complying with the PRA, including the potential volume of requests (although the attorney general and secretary of state agree that the legislature could set up a central office to handle requests).

The case went to the State Supreme Court after a Jan. 19, 2018 ruling by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese that ruled the PRA applies to the offices of the state’s senators and representatives. The judge noted “the mandate that the Public Records Act be liberally construed” and declared individual legislative offices “agencies” that were in violation of the PRA by failing to respond to the media’s records requests that launched the litigation.

Arguments before the State Supreme Court included whether the Legislature had removed itself from the PRA’s reach with legislation in 2007 that did not use an earlier definition for “state office” and did not clarify the terms used to define “state agency.”

“It is the will of the people that ought to be honored,” said Earl-Hubbard, who argued that the terms “state agency” and “state office” were intended to cover all branches and government and all public officials.

“Local elected officials have been living with the transparency required by the PRA for more than four decades, and functioning just fine,” she said after the arguments. “It is time for the State Legislature and our state elected Legislators to do the same.”

The Attorney General and Secretary of State have both publicly supported the media plaintiffs, and say the legislature should comply with the PRA.

The media plaintiffs include leading print and broadcast organizations in Washington, as well as Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington (representing all Washington dailies) and The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (representing more than 100 community newspapers). Media that were not plaintiffs, as well as WCOG, filed amicus briefs.

TVW video of arguments, AP et.al. v Washington Legislature

Related coverage:

Washington Supreme Court hears arguments on Legislature’s practice of withholding documents from public | The Seattle Times

5 types of government documents WA lawmakers don’t think you should see/Crosscut

Washington Supreme Court hears case over legislators’ public records/KING-TV 5