Washington lawmakers vow to let Supreme Court public-records ruling stand

Washington’s legislative leaders say they won’t use the 2020 session to curtail the state Supreme Court’s ruling that lawmakers must disclose documents under the Public Records Act. The statements come after the court last month ruled on a lawsuit brought in 2017 by 10 news organizations – including The Associated Press – that challenged the Legislature’s self-claimed exemption, which has allowed state lawmakers to withhold documents such as emails, text messages, calendars, and investigative reports – even as local and state government routinely release such records. On Thursday, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andy Billig cited the Legislature’s preparations last year to begin handling requests, such as hiring public-records officers for both the House and Senate. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler also doubts there will be any action to change the law. Like the 2018 Thurston County Superior Court decision in the case, the Supreme Court last month ruled that individual lawmakers’ offices are “agencies” and thus subject to the general public records disclosure mandate under current law. The legal challenge has twice spurred lawmakers to try to change the law before the Supreme Court could rule. In 2018, legislators released and approved a bill in 48 hours to exempt themselves from the Public Records Act, but Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the measure amid public outcry. Democratic lawmakers in 2019 then proposed a plan that would have opened up additional documents as “a good-faith offer at a compromise” while the lawsuit awaited arguments before the state Supreme Court and a ruling. Legislators, however, shelved that bill after criticism from open-government advocates and news organizations. (Seattle Times)