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.”
“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.
- Read Governor Inslee’s veto message
- Read the letter from the plaintiffs to Governor Inslee
- Read the letter from Democrats to Governor Inslee
- Read the letter from House Republicans to Governor Inslee