Local News

Senate bill makes some information public, but exempts state legislature from much of Public Records

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Washington State Legislature passed a bill on Friday that would exempt state lawmakers from the state's Public Record Act. 

Some lawmakers say Senate Bill 6617 will improve transparency in state government, but state media outlets argue otherwise. 

Eight newspapers in the state, including the Spokesman-Review, published front page editorials on Tuesday, expressing opposition to the bill. Some ask Governor Jay Inslee to veto it before an end-of-Thursday deadline. 

Back in September of 2017, multiple news outlets, including the Associated Press and the Spokesman-Review sued the Washington State Legislature for withholding information that -- they argued-- the state's Public Records Act required lawmakers to release. 

This is not private, personal information- most of that is exempt from disclosure. This is public business information, like legislator's calendars,  texts and emails.  

In January, a Thurston County judge ruled that state lawmaker's offices are subject to the Public Records Act. 

Last week, state senators introduced Senate Bill 6617. It passed with ease, and without debate, on Friday. 

The bill effectively exempts the legislature from much of the Public Records Act, though it will make some records public -- such as legislator calendars and communications with lobbyists. 

Communications with constituents will be exempted from disclosure. If a request is denied, the appeal will not go to a court but to one of two (or, in some cases, both) legislative committees. 

State senators passed the bill by a vote of 41-7. Representatives approved it shortly after, by a vote of 83-14. Governor Jay Inslee has until the end of Thursday to either let the bill pass -- which he can do without signing in-- or veto the bill.