Gov. Inslee vetoes legislative exemption bill

Mar 1, 2018, 9:16 PM | Updated: Mar 2, 2018, 9:21 am
Gov. Inslee vetoes ESB 6617 on Thursday night. (@govinslee on Twitter)
(@govinslee on Twitter)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has vetoed ESB 6617, a bill that sought to exempt Washington lawmakers from the state’s Public Records Act, and legislators agreed to not take another vote to override his action.

Thursday night’s agreement came hours before the measure — contested by media groups and open government advocates — would have become law.

The governor’s office received more than 12,000 emails and 6,000 phone calls after both houses passed the bill on Friday.

Following his veto, Inslee issued the following statement:

“The public’s right to government information is one we hold dearly in Washington. 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. 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.”

Senators who voted no on ESB 6617: Baumgartner, Carlyle, Fain, Miloscia, O’Ban, Ranker, and Wagoner.

Representatives who voted no on ESB 6617: Caldier, Fey, Graves, Harmsworth, Kilduff, Kraft, Muri, Orwall, Pellicciotti, Reeves, Sawyer, Stambaugh, Walsh, and Young.

A media coalition that sued over legislative records last year agreed to seek a stay of proceedings in the trial court during an appeal from last month’s court ruling that found state lawmakers are fully subject to the same broad public disclosure requirements that cover other local and state elected officials and employees at state agencies.

The Legislature is in the process of appealing that ruling and while a stay was likely to be granted in the case regardless, the media groups agreed to officially request the stay with the defendants and to not seek enforcement of the order while the case is on appeal.

Letter from the media plaintiffs

The media groups also agreed to not launch an initiative effort to change present law while the case worked its way through the appellate process.

Initiative effort following ESB 6617

Michele Earl Hubbard, attorney for the media groups, says that doesn’t mean they can’t support an effort.

“Tim Eyman has already introduced an initiative that would, in fact, make it clear in the definitions that state agencies includes the Legislature itself as an entity as well as the legislators,” Earl Hubbard said. “There’s no prohibition on the media supporting that, urging people to vote for that, voting for it themselves. They just agreed they wouldn’t introduce an initiative of their own.”

At this point, the issue of whether lawmakers must turn over records could eventually be resolved by the Legislature, the state Supreme Court, an initiative, or all three.

“Unless they voluntarily give things up, nobody is getting records unless they sue, get an order, and seek to enforce that order by having people held in contempt,” Earl Hubbard said. “There is nothing to prevent people, individually, from producing records. And some legislators have.”

House Republicans have urged a veto and blamed Democrats for not giving their own public records bill a hearing. They’re now demanding that bill — HB 2255 — get a hearing next week, but barring a special session, it’s unlikely that will have time to move forward.

The Associated Press and KIRO Radio reporter Hanna Scott contributed to this story.

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Gov. Inslee vetoes legislative exemption bill