The Gristle

Sunshine Storm

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

SUNSHINE STORM: Newspapers around the state dedicated their front pages this week to an editorial appeal to Governor Jay Inslee to veto Senate Bill 6617, an ill-advised attempt by state legislators to shield themselves from public disclosure requests under Washington’s Public Records Act.

Lawmakers passed the bill late last week, only 48 hours after releasing the proposal, and without holding any public hearing or floor debate. The bill sped through the Senate, 41-7, and the House, 83-14.

The measure comes as lawmakers are scrambling in the midst of an appeal of the ruling of a superior court judge who in January sided with media groups, led by the Associated Press, who argued lawmakers had been illegally withholding documents like daily calendars, emails and text messages. The bill would officially remove the legislative branch from the state’s Public Records Act, but, starting on July 1, it would allow release of some correspondence, “specified information” from lawmaker calendars, and final disciplinary reports.

Weighing in on the case in superior court, the state Attorney General wrote that state lawmakers are subject to the same rules of disclosure that cover other elected officials and employees at state agencies.

The Legislature decided to forego using the attorney general’s office and instead hired two outside law firms to defend their position in court, spending more than $100,000 through the end of December. They did not prevail.

It’s rare that a bill moves this quickly and with such overwhelming bipartisan support, but SB6617 passed within minutes, as the vast majority of lawmakers voted to hide their records from the public.

Taken as a whole, the measure seems to be an effort by lawmakers to shield themselves, at least temporarily (and in an election year), from requests for documentation of sexual harassment and workplace assaults—an issue prominently in the news.

More than 170 prominent women in Washington signed a letter in November calling for a shift in workplace culture at the state Legislature to end inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment.

“Our political world is one of explicit and implicit power differentials,” the women asserted in their letter. “We have no clear hierarchy like a more traditional workplace. We have no safe, neutral place to report our experiences. And there are currently few possibilities for meaningful consequences for inappropriate behavior. For some of us, speaking out about harassment means choosing between our personal safety and our professional futures or policy successes. We know that countless times, women have calculated the risk, remembered what happened to other women who spoke up and seen the lack of meaningful pathways for change. And too often, the safe choice has been to ‘deal with’ these situations ourselves.”

The meaningful pathway, of course, includes efforts to shine sunlight on these actions through the state’s public disclosure law, an instrument created by state voters to help hold their government and its representatives accountable.

Curiously, a number of the women who signed that letter are legislators who now voted in support of SB6617. These include Rep. Kris Lytton, a Democrat from the 40th District. Her colleague in the Senate, Kevin Ranker, was a rare vote opposed to SB6617.

“I know that there has been concerns around the process this bill took, and that is a fair complaint,” Lytton said in a statement, “but I can assure you that this was due to the result of the court order coming out during the middle of the legislative session with little time left. At that point, the only process left had to happen quickly in order to protect certain aspects of privacy.” She noted there were concerns among lawmakers for the protection of constituent privacy, the flow of ideas during the legislative process, and preventing politically motivated fishing expeditions.

And, yes, all Republican representatives in the 42nd Legislative District voted to shield themselves.

“In this #MeToo era, where victims of sexual harassment at the state Capitol have had to seek justice through the news media, the Legislature closing off records of how past cases might have been mishandled is a particular abomination,” the Seattle Times editorial board stormed in a front page opinion—the first to appear on that newspaper’s front page in 110 years.

The papers’ unusual move puts pressure on the governor to veto the bill and send it back to the Legislature for another vote.

“The Washington state legislature should not be allowed to get away with its sneak attack on transparency and accountability,” David Boardman, chair of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, noted. “By passing a bill that purported to improve public accountability but that actually constrains it, and by doing so under the guise of an ‘emergency,’ lawmakers have done a shameful disservice to the citizens of their state.”

While there’s easily enough votes to override a governor’s veto, the override would be a surprisingly brazen step for a legislature that appears to be trying to duck bad publicity and a rising public resentment and reckoning.

President of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, Toby Nixon, called passage of the bill “incontrovertible evidence of the utter contempt legislators of both parties have for public participation in the legislative process.”

Nixon pointed to an escalation in improper procedure and affronts to due process in the Legislature in recent years, including closed hearings and last minute substitutions of bills.

“They’ve shown such contempt in many ways over the years through such things as introducing title-only bills,” Nixon said, “holding hearings on bills the same day they’re introduced, voting on massive bills and striking amendments such as the budget within hours of the text becoming available before legislators themselves have an opportunity to read it much less the public, cancelling hearings on short notice after people have traveled across the state to attend, etc. But the idea that a major bill with such huge policy implications is introduced and then on the governor’s desk for signature within 48 hours is just ridiculous.

“Voters should never forget this abuse.”

West Coast
Past Columns
The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

A Public Education

February 21, 2018

Power Play

February 14, 2018

Neutral Ground

February 7, 2018

The Nature of the Emergency

January 31, 2018

‘Fix’ fumbled, punted

January 24, 2018

New Energy

January 17, 2018

Save Our Salish Sea

January 10, 2018

Predictions of Protractions

January 3, 2018

Parsing the Puzzle

December 27, 2017

Camp Kelli

December 20, 2017

Gifts of the Three Magi

December 13, 2017


December 6, 2017

Gulag Goulash

November 29, 2017

Bronze Rule

November 22, 2017

Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

World Water Day Beach Cleanup

12:00pm|Locust Beach

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Toward Zero Waste Workshop

1:30pm|Kombucha Town's Culture Cafe

Happy Hour Thursdays

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Trivia Thursday

5:30pm|Trove Coffee

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running


6:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

South Fork Exploration

6:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Fitness Forum

7:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Crown Jewel Wilderness

7:00pm|Village Books

Havilah Rand House Concert

7:30pm|Chuckanut Center

Village Books
Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Women's Conference Registration Deadline

9:00am|Bellwether Ballroom

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Bingo Night

6:00pm|The Majestic

From Auschwitz to America

7:00pm|Village Books

The Book of Moron

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Adventures and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books Trove Web
Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

The Book of Moron

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Adventures and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Native Plant Sale & Expo

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Whatcom County Democrats Convention

10:00am|Bellingham High School

Rock & Gem Club Show

10:00am|Bloedel Donovan Community Center

Starting Your Vegetable Garden

10:00am|Blaine Library

March for Our Lives

10:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Walk for Water

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Tax Help Available

12:30pm| First Congregational Church


1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Spring Show Opening Reception

2:00pm|River Gallery

Native Plants & Birds

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

A Conversation with Alan Friedlob

3:00pm|Deming Library

The Passage Home to Meuse

4:00pm|Lynden Village Books

Memory's Blade

7:00pm|Village Books

Contra Dance

7:00pm| Fairhaven Library

Shantala and Friends

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Ballroom Dance

7:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

see our complete calendar »

Trove Web Best Of Skagit Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books