Members of the state Legislature should not be shy — nor concerned — about doing the public’s business in the open. After all, those serving on city councils, county commissions and school boards have the doors to their chambers wide open as they deliberate public policy.
Yet, the final report from the task force created after lawmakers attempted to exempt themselves from the state’s Public Records Act fell short of calling for the entire deliberative process to take place without restrictions.
The group could not reach agreement on which documents from the deliberative process should be available to the public.
Still, some progress was made.
The task force — eight lawmakers, three media representatives, three members of the public and an open government advocate — said the Legislature should be more transparent about its workings.
The task force agreed disputes over which specific records are public should be handled by an independent body, and that privacy protections already in the Public Records Act should cover communications that people have with lawmakers.
Since the law already offers privacy protections when constituents seeks help from lawmakers on issues that could be personal matters, we continue to be puzzled by lawmakers resistance to following the same rules that apply to local public officials.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and a member of the task force, was one of those who felt as if additional protections for documents that reflect deliberative process. Lawmakers could face blowback from constituents if constituents were able to see how compromises are reached in Olympia, King said.
So, facing “blowback” or, as we see it, feedback for decisions made is part of the job for senators and representatives. They are making big decisions that directly impact the lives of state residents.
The public has the need, and the right, to know what lawmakers are doing on their behalf. That includes knowing how they arrive at decisions.
The task force was formed as a way to find common ground between the media, as watchdogs for the people, and lawmakers who felt they should not have to follow the same rules as our local officials. It’s our hope that when lawmakers take action during the 2019 legislative session they will have fewer limits on public access to records.
As task force member Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, has said, the law should be what’s best for the public, not the elected lawmakers.