Governor Inslee vetoes ESB 6617
Governor Jay Inslee vetoes ESB 6617 (Photo courtesy of Governor Inslee's office)

In a vic­to­ry for sense and sen­si­bil­i­ty, Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee tonight vetoed an extreme­ly unpop­u­lar bill passed by the Leg­is­la­ture last week that would have per­ma­nent­ly shield­ed law­mak­ers from hav­ing to com­ply with Wash­ing­ton State’s pub­lic records laws until after July 1st, 2018.

Engrossed Sen­ate Bill 6617, spon­sored by Sen­a­tors Sharon Nel­son and Mark Schoesler, sailed out of the Leg­is­la­ture last Fri­day with veto-proof super­ma­jori­ties vot­ing in favor. Regret­tably, the bill was craft­ed behind closed doors with­out pub­lic input and was then rushed to the floor to be vot­ed on with­out debate, total­ly cir­cum­vent­ing the nor­mal leg­isla­tive process. The bill has been wide­ly panned in the press, by grass­roots activists, and by local gov­ern­ment officials.

Inslee’s office sub­se­quent­ly received a tor­rent of emails, phone calls, and fax­es from Wash­ing­to­ni­ans strong­ly urg­ing a veto, while news­pa­pers across the state ran a slew of front-page edi­to­ri­als call­ing for the same. NPI has stood in oppo­si­tion to the leg­is­la­tion since the bill was filed, and we are glad to see that it has been vetoed.

Although the bill passed with veto-proof majori­ties, the veto will not be over­rid­den. That’s because, prod­ded by Inslee, law­mak­ers have reached a deal with the media com­pa­nies that have been suing them to seek a stay of Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judge Lane­se’s recent deci­sion requir­ing leg­is­la­tors to fol­low the state’s pub­lic dis­clo­sure laws, which leg­is­la­tors had mis­tak­en­ly thought they were exempt from.

Under the terms of the deal, law­mak­ers and media com­pa­nies will work with inter­est­ed cit­i­zens and orga­ni­za­tions to fig­ure out an alter­na­tive approach that will work bet­ter. Effec­tive­ly, a cease­fire in the tug of war over pub­lic records has just been declared, which should allow for sounder pol­i­cy to pre­vail over the long term.

“The public’s right to gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion is one we hold dear­ly in Wash­ing­ton,” said Gov­er­nor Inslee in a state­ment. “Trans­paren­cy is a cor­ner­stone of a demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment, and I’m very proud of my administration’s record on pub­lic dis­clo­sure. I believe leg­is­la­tors will find they can ful­fill their duties while being ful­ly trans­par­ent, just like state and local gov­ern­ments all across Washington.”

Governor Inslee vetoes ESB 6617
Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee vetoes ESB 6617 (Pho­to cour­tesy of Gov­er­nor Inslee’s office)

“I want to thank the leg­is­la­tors who have recon­sid­ered this bill and asked me for this veto tonight. Since this bill passed, my office and law­mak­ers have heard an unprece­dent­ed lev­el of response from the pub­lic. Those mes­sages were heard loud­ly and clear­ly. I now hope law­mak­ers, the media, and oth­er stake­hold­ers will work togeth­er to resolve dif­fer­ences through a process the pub­lic can have faith in.”

“I believe the Legislature’s over­whelm­ing vote on the bill was a good faith attempt to increase dis­clo­sure and trans­paren­cy. Though I expressed con­cerns about the out­line of the bill, I did tell leg­is­la­tors I would let the bill become law if they deliv­ered it with enough votes to over­ride a veto,” added the Governor.

“How­ev­er, that was before I saw the process which failed to meet pub­lic expec­ta­tions for open­ness and deliv­ered a bill that fell short. I appre­ci­ate that both sides have been open to dis­cus­sions dur­ing the past few days and will work togeth­er to find the right approach to this impor­tant issue.”

In a set of iden­ti­cal­ly word­ed let­ters to Inslee, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture who vot­ed for ESB 6617 admit­ted they erred by sup­port­ing a bill that had not been sub­ject­ed to reg­u­lar order.

“We made a mis­take by fail­ing to go through a full pub­lic hear­ing process on this very impor­tant leg­is­la­tion,” they wrote. “The hur­ried process has over­shad­owed the pos­i­tive reforms in the bill. We think the only way to make this right is for you to veto the bill and for us to start again.”

It’s not often that we see our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives own­ing their mis­takes like this. NPI’s staff and board are pleased and proud to read these words from our law­mak­ers tonight. They have cho­sen wise­ly, and we con­grat­u­late them.

NPI will hap­pi­ly par­tic­i­pate in the process of find­ing a way for­ward, so that the Leg­is­la­ture becomes more account­able and trans­par­ent to the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton State while safe­guard­ing sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion that should­n’t be pub­licly disclosed.


About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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