Gov Inslee Vetoes Legislature Secrecy Bill

Governor Inslee did what he had to do - both politically and ethically - by vetoing the state senate bill ESB 6617, which removed the state legislature from the jurisdiction of our state’s public records laws. He was under tremendous pressure from all state news media and thousands of citizen petitions to veto the bill.

But, it seems he was busy behind the scenes all this week working on a compromise process between the state legislature and the state’s major news media. He also announced that this evening - and it seems the news media are ready to allow some compromises to be made. The major players in our state news media have agreed to ask the courts to delay the implementation of forcing the legislature to reveal past public records.

We will certainly learn more in the next few days.

A couple thoughts occur to me right off the bat here. I wonder if we will ever have access to the records of this week’s secret meetings between the governor, the legislators and the news media bosses. I doubt it. This agreement dealing with open government was made in secret and is intended to probably stay that way. How ironic.

Second, the compromise most desired by the legislature is that some of the past public records remain secret. That is what caused their panic. Those records apparently have information that will either be very embarrassing, may cause some to have to resign, and may even cause some to be criminally charged. As our previous article stated - what are they hiding? This compromise thus might well hide those records forever.

So - this struggle is far from over. Governor Inslee has thrown the legislature a life ring. And the news media may have traded some better access to records going forward in exchange for allowing some past records to remain closed.

It may come back to a citizen group having to file a lawsuit to open past records and learn what the legislators in Olympia are so afraid of our learning. And it may take citizens over the next year or two to possibly pass a new initiative on public records laws for going forward. To my read, our major corporate news media might have sold us citizens down the river. So much for their front page blusters on Wednesday, no doubt the very day they themselves were quietly and secretly negotiating with the governor and legislators. They did not report that to us. Again, how ironic.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Jon Humphrey

Mar 02, 2018

I am not sure why we would accept anything other than complete transperancy from our government on all issues. If anything we should be demanding more real answers and more transperancy. Trades should not be taking place, especially involving our meida outlets who should be acting as watchdogs in the publics’ interest. Yet we see some level of obsfucations just about everytime a bill is passed and on just about every issue.

For example, I will be writing an article on how the State Senate took a very straight forward bill about allowing the ports to expand telecom services into rural areas, that came out of the House in great shape and in a way that would have helped our local net-neutral providers really get into rural areas via our ports solving our problems with the predatory big telecoms forever, and decided to throw the big telecoms a bone via amendments before passing it. Maria Cantwell’s response to the gun epidemic is very disappointing, totally disconnected from reality, and toally centrist. She provides no real substance in her replies or responses. In short she’s not going to do anything, even though most Washingtonians want her to because she doesn’t answer to them. This is probably because of how her donations work, but it shows that the rights of citizens are considered last and there are probably larger players she is trying to please working in the background.

In short, we need to replace just about everyone currently in power with people who put ethics before money and work in the public interest. I’m sure if you investigate just about everyone that is in office right now, using the past records you mention here, most of them will be caught red handed with something that would lead to them being removed from office, at the very least. Sorry if I’m preaching to the choir. 


Elisabeth Britt

Mar 02, 2018

Initially, a denied public records request regarding sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers spurred several media corporations to file a lawsuit to force the legislature to release files related to incidents of reported abuse.

The legislature has used an informal complaint process to deal with abuse complaints for decades. In other words, formal disciplinary records will not exist for the majority of workplace violence and harassment complaints. Hence, a law that restricts public access to “formal disciplinary records” will effectively hide the majority of complaints against lawmakers. The members of the legislature and the governor are aware of this fact. This is why the media and individual citizens require access to the informal complaint records kept by the House and Senate Administration. The employee’s name can be redacted. Unless the employee is willing to go public with their complaint. 

I will allow a credible citizen’s group to request my employment records from the legislature - which have been denied to me and the media repeatedly over the last 18 years. That is, if the Administration hasn’t hired someone to shred every past record of abuse in thelegislature’s H.R. files.  It’s my understanding that federal law requires the state to keep employee records for 30 years.  I have no way of knowing if my files still exist. But I do have a series of letters denying me access to my own employee file from House Counsel over the years.   

The legislature should never refuse to allow an employee to examine their employee file. That’s a violation of state and federal law and a violation of the individual employee’s constitutional rights. If they are denying an employee and the media access to a file, as they did in my case. They are protecting the legislator who in some cases is a serial offender. Why shouldn’t the legislator re-offend? There are no consequences or discipline for inappropriate or abusive behavior.  

Public disclosure of past abuse will do more to change the future behavior of elected officials than a revised handbook on sexual harassment/workplace violence. As long as the legislature remains in control of deciding which documents can be released, the public will have no idea how lawmakers really behave in Olympia. 

That said, Governor Inslee and the legislature have a right to negotiate with the media regarding the terms of settlement of the case.  

We the people have been given the power of Initiative by our state Constitution.  It appears that we will have to write and circulate an Initiative to force our arrogant legislature to comply with the same laws that that same legislature requires other elected officials to obey.  Our elected state legislators are not kings and queens. Yet, in Olympia, they are behaving as if they have royal prerogative.

No one, not even a state lawmaker, is above the law.  


Elisabeth Britt

Mar 02, 2018

I have an update:

Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times just reported that Tim Eyman filed  The Transparency in Lawmaking Act Initiative in Olympia on Thursday. 

Eyman’s Initiative was drafted in response to a ruling by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese. Lanese determined that the state legislature is subject to public disclosure laws. 

Joseph O’Sullivan wrote the original article  about the court’s decision published on January 19th, 2018 in the Seattle Times.  Readers can also find a direct link to the court decision in O’Sullivan’s article.  


David Camp

Mar 03, 2018

 To my non-lawyer’s eye, Eyman’s initiative seems to the point and worthy of support. Especially considering that one of the clauses of the excrable bill vetoed by Gov. Enslee specifically outlawed the ability of citizens to undo the secret records law using the Citizens’ initiative process. 

I’d be interested to know anyone else’s thoughts on Eyman’s initiative.