Bill would eliminate state lawmakers’ current exemption from disclosure of public records
Taxpayers deserve transparency. That’s according to freshman lawmaker Rep. Paul Graves, R-Fall City, who will be introducing The Legislative Transparency Act ahead of the 2018 legislative session. If adopted, it would remove language that currently exempts state legislators from the full purview of the Public Records Act.
Approved by Washington voters in 1972, the Public Records Act requires most records maintained by state, county and city governments be made available to the public. A 1995 amendment, however, inserted language giving state legislators an exemption from the requirement to disclose most records. As a result, the Legislature remains the sole governmental body within Washington under a blanket exemption from the disclosure requirements of the Public Records Act.
Although Graves believes the Legislature is correctly interpreting the 1995 language, he does not believe state lawmakers should be receiving preferential treatment.
“Transparency and accountability are critical to our system of representative democracy,” said Graves. “From the governor to city council members, no elected official should be exempt from answering to the people they represent.”
Graves also cited an existing chapter of the Public Records Act, which states:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. (RCW 42.56.030)
As proposed, The Legislative Transparency Act would essentially remove the 1995 language and subject state legislators to the same public disclosure requirements currently applied to elected officials at all other levels of government.
Under the proposed law, the secretary of the Senate and chief clerk of the House would serve as the appointed public records officers responsible for filling public records requests made to legislative members in each respective chamber.
“If government is not transparent, I consider it my duty – as both as a representative of the people and as a Washington citizen – to correct the problem,” said Graves. “This is good governance, plain and simple.”
The 2018 legislative session will convene on Jan. 8 and is scheduled to run for 60 consecutive days.