Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled the elected members of the state Legislature are subject to the state Public Records Act like other elected officials — from city council members to the governor.
That ruling, while significant, was not necessarily the final word because state lawmakers — by definition — have the power to change the law.
But word out of Olympia just days before the 2019 legislative session, which opened today, is that senators and representatives will let the high court’s ruling stand.
That’s a huge victory for the people of Washington state. It means lawmakers should no longer exempt themselves from the release of public documents such as emails, text messages, calendars and investigative reports.
The Legislature will now be required to follow the Public Records Act like local governments and the rest of state government.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he does not expect any legislative action on the court ruling and that his office is now responding to information requests.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, sees it the same way as Billig.
“Request away, I’m happy to comply,” added House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R- Yelm.
This development is outstanding. We have long contended that lawmakers exempting themselves from a law approved by voters in 1972 is nonsense. Legislators are elected to do the people’s business — just like city council members and county commissioners — and the people have a right to see the documents based on their work.
In 2017, a lawsuit was filed by 10 news organizations — including The Seattle Times, which owns the Union-Bulletin and Yakima Herald-Republic — that challenged the Legislature’s claim that lawmakers are exempt from the Public Records Act.
In the high court’s ruling in December, Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority that “under the plain meaning” of the records act, “individual legislators’ offices are ‘agencies’ subject to the (Public Records Act’s) general public records disclosure mandate. Legislative history confirms rather than contradicts our conclusion.”
The high court’s reasoning was sound and the reaction from legislative leaders is welcome.
The people will benefit as the state Legislature becomes more transparent.