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Outrage erupts over Washington lawmakers’ public records law

Washington state capital in Olympia. (AP file photo)
LISTEN: Toby Nixon explains controversial, concerning public records bill

It seems that there is one thing that Washington’s Republicans and Democrats can agree on — secrecy.

“It was done completely in secret,” Toby Nixon told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

“They are saying, ‘Just trust us,’” he said. “That is not the way to build trust.”

RELATED: Senator’s weak argument on public records bill

Nixon is president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. He served 2.5 terms as a state representative and is currently a Kirkland city council member. His voice is among a chorus of outrage targeted at Olympia after lawmakers created and passed a bill within 48 hours with a vast majority from both parties. Governor Jay Inslee’s office has been flooded with thousands of phone calls and emails from frustrated Washingtonians.

The new law keeps lawmakers’ emails, text messages, and other records hidden from constituents. The bill is in response to a recent court decision. A Thurston County court ruled that state lawmakers are subject to open records regulations — their emails, text messages, etc. are public records according to law. Lawmakers responded by changing the law altogether. They made it retroactive, meaning past records will also be hidden from public view.

“It’s a precedent that anytime the Legislature feels that it will lose a lawsuit, they can change the law and make it go away,” Nixon said. “That is not the way the government should work.”

Nixon points out that no amendments were allowed. There was no floor debate, either.

“Well, they did allow two short speeches in the House, both in support,” Nixon said. “No opposition was allowed.”

There was also no public hearing, rather a quick work session that took place in less than 24 hours.

“That means most people who could testify on it could not get to Olympia to testify,” Nixon said. “It was really a sham.”

Public records response

Public sentiment against the law is perhaps just as the strong as the votes were to pass it so quickly. As of Wednesday afternoon, the governor’s office received more than 8,100 emails urging Inslee to veto the law. The state capital also received more than 4,300 phone calls on the issue. But as The Seattle Times reports, Inslee may not have the option to veto the bill since it was approved by a massive majority of lawmakers. The governor could choose not to sign the bill, but it will still become law as soon as this week.

Thirteen newspapers wrote front page editorials opposing the law. KTTH’s Jason Rantz said excuses put forth by his own guest — Sen. Phil Fortunato — were “weak.” Other lawmakers have also been fact checked on their excuses for passing the bill. Consensus is that legislators are “off the mark.”

Nixon said that Washingtonians have a few options to counter what lawmakers have done to hide their public records.

“We can’t do a referendum because they put an emergency clause on it so it goes into effect immediately,” Nixon said. “The next alternative is to run an initiative … a group of people in the state could run an initiative to either repeal this entirely and go back to what we had, or at least try to fix some of the problems with it.”

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