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Sunshine Week Follows WA Lawmakers' Attempt to Roll Back Transparency

Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bill that would have exempted lawmakers from the Public Records Act. (Steve Voght/Flickr)
Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bill that would have exempted lawmakers from the Public Records Act. (Steve Voght/Flickr)
March 12, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It's Sunshine Week, which recognizes the importance of having openness and transparency in how government operates.

In the wake of Washington state lawmakers' attempt to roll back open records, Sunshine Week has taken on special significance this year in the Evergreen State.

On March 1, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bill passed by the State Legislature that would have exempted lawmakers from the Public Records Act.

Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, says even though this bill was vetoed, more than a dozen other laws passed this session poke holes in the state's public records law and that there are nearly 500 exemptions to the law now.

"But the biggest difficulty is agencies simply refusing to comply,” he states. “It's not that they use the exemptions that are in the law. They simply hide records or destroy records before they're allowed to, and they just disappear. "

Inslee received more than 20,000 emails urging him to veto the bill exempting legislators from public records requests. Nixon says the bill would have applied retroactively to any requests for records as well.

Nixon says it's critical in a democracy for people to know what happens in their government.

"In our form of government, the people are sovereign, which should mean that we're in charge,” he stresses. “But the only way that we can perform that duty effectively, the only way that we can be informed voters, is if we know as much about what's going on in the government as those who work in the government."

Nixon touts the state's public records laws that make it illegal to charge for the time it takes to find records and reimburses people who successfully challenge an agency over the release of records.

However, he says the state needs a better way to enforce these laws besides the court system because cost is a significant barrier to litigation.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA