RTDNA urges Washington governor to veto bill exempting lawmakers from open records laws

February 28, 2018 01:30

Update - March 2nd: RTDNA applauds Washington governor for vetoing legislative secrecy bill

The Radio Television Digital News Association and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force has written a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Washington), urging him to veto Senate Bill 6617, which would exempt state legislators from the Washington Public Records Act.
On February 23, according to The Seattle Times, the Washington Senate passed the bill “without debate, 41-7. Minutes later, House lawmakers approved it 83-14.” It followed a court ruling in January that the legislature had violated the public records act. Even though lawmakers were appealing that ruling, they passed Senate Bill 6617 which, if signed by the governor, could make the court ruling moot.
In RTDNA’s view, two aspects of the bill’s provisions are particularly appalling. First, it removes the legislature from a law that was enacted by voter approval; second, it contains a clause that prohibits people from filing lawsuits to challenge Senate Bill 6617.
In his letter to Gov. Inslee, RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley wrote:
I am well aware that Senate Bill 6617 passed both chambers of the state legislature by so-called “veto-proof” margins. On its face, that is an affront to every individual who lives in Washington. In reality, RTDNA believes that a veto from you – despite the possibility it would be overridden – would demonstrate that you, too, believe in your constituents’ right, and need, to know how their taxpayer-paid state lawmakers are conducting business on their behalf. It would also compel those legislators to vote again, requiring them to double down on the notion of secrecy versus transparency. …
I respectfully urge you both to veto Senate Bill 6617 and to speak out publicly against it. Your bully pulpit could very well empower the citizens of the state of Washington to convince their legislative representatives to reconsider this misguided bill.
The letter was written on behalf of the more than two dozen RTDNA members who live and work in the state of Washington. But the real beneficiaries of a sustained veto would be all of the citizens of the state, who voted to enact the Washington Public Records Law and now face the real possibility that crucial actions of their elected legislative representatives will remain secret.
One of RTDNA’s Washington state member stations, TEGNA-owned KING-TV, Seattle, is airing a public service announcement urging viewers to contact Gov. Inslee and urge him to veto Senate Bill 6617:
KING-TV also reports that the governor’s office has been flooded with calls from people urging a veto.
One Washington state lawmaker who voted against Senate Bill 6617 emailed The Seattle Times that, “Succinctly put, the bill is a body slam to open government and the accountability that our citizens expect and deserve.”
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing pressfreedom@rtdna.org.