Legislators should open their records to the public

Legislators should follow the same public-disclosure rules on releasing calendars, text and emails as do all other public officials in Washington. A lawsuit seeks to make that happen.

WHAT is it about “full” that Washington legislators don’t understand?

“Full” as in the public’s right to “full” access to public records so as to assure continuing public confidence in fairness of elections and governmental processes, and so as to assure that the public interest will be fully protected.”

That’s the language in Initiative 276, passed overwhelmingly by Washington voters in 1972, to make sure the public’s business is conducted … publicly.

But, increasingly, members of the Legislature have been citing a 1995 revision that they claim exempts them from releasing daily schedules, emails, text messages and other materials related to their work.

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The Seattle Times is joining a lawsuit with The Associated Press and other media organizations to challenge that interpretation and force legislators to follow the same rules as do all other public officials, from school board members to the heads of state agencies.

In holding themselves above the law, legislators have cited an amendment passed in 1995 — with no public hearings and only two minutes of debate — that used an outdated definition of legislative records. The 1971 definition holds that they do not include “reports or correspondence made or received by or in any way under the personal control of the individual members of the Legislature.”

Legislators may want to whistle past the 1972 will of the people, but the media lawsuit intends to show the legislators’ interpretation of the 1995 amendment is wrong and that there was no intention of removing or narrowing the reach of I-276.

Not every legislator has hidden behind the 1995 interpretation. When the news organizations sought calendars from all 147 legislators earlier this year, Reps. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, and Mike Pellicciotti, D-Federal Way, released theirs. Both said openness and disclosure were in the public interest and vital for public accountability.

The public can only wish all other legislators had joined them. It would shed light on how members spent their workdays, especially in light of the poor performance of the Legislature this year.

Despite three special sessions, the Legislature adjourned without passing a…

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