Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo

Despite ruling on Public Records Act, we need to keep a close eye on Olympia

Washington Supreme Court upholds that state legislators are subject to the Public Records Act.

By Patrick Grubb, President, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association

In 1869, the Daily Cleveland Herald quoted lawyer John Godfrey Saxe as saying, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”

That saying, or variants of it, have been repeated so often that it has become accepted knowledge. The fact is, though, the more we know about the origin and development of laws, the better off we are. Bad laws get created in back rooms, through undisclosed emails, riding on golf carts and over drinks at the country club bar. Good laws are created in the open and under the gaze of the public.

We all know how money influences elections and politicians, how a scratch on the back here eases an itch on a back there. Human nature being what it is, this is the world we live in.

And that being the case, it is good news that the Washington Supreme Court upheld in a 7-2 vote on Dec. 19 that individual state legislators are subject to the Public Records Act and must disclose records such as calendars, staff complaints and emails from lobbyists etc. upon request from members of the public.

The decision came as a result of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of media organizations in 2017. The coalition, led by the Associated Press and the Seattle Times, included the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA) and Sound Publishing. The judge in that case, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese, ruled in January 2018 that the records of individual Washington state lawmakers are subject to public records law. Not only did the Legislature appeal that decision, it also rammed through a bill in 48 hours that would have exempted its members from the Public Records Act.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee after he received close to 20,000 emails, calls and letters from the public after the media raised a ruckus. Another bill proposed by Democratic lawmakers was withdrawn in 2019 after being subjected to withering criticism.

The continuing efforts of lawmakers to escape public scrutiny obligates the media to keep a close eye on Olympia to make certain the lawmakers don’t once again try to pass one over us. The WNPA has two legislative reporter interns, Cameron Sheppard from Washington State University and Leona Vaughn from University of Washington, beginning next week who will be our watchdogs during the session.

Although the Public Records Act could stand some improvement, it still allows the public a window into the machinery of lawmaking and that is a good thing. Just like we want to know what’s in the sausages we’re eating, we should know what’s behind the laws that are being passed in our names.




Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in Opinion

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Reopen schools in fall, but do it safely

Don’t bully schools into reopening. Protect our students.

Why this newspaper is capitalizing Black | Editorial

Moving forward, Seattle Weekly and the rest of Sound Publishing’s King County… Continue reading

Doreen Davis, left in mask, waves at parade participants on May 2. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo
Wear your face-hugging, ever-loving mask | Editorial

“Don’t make me come down there.” — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo,… Continue reading

Grocery store staff are working hard to keep the shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo
Thank you grocery store clerks

Recognizing the sacrifices of our unsung essential workforce.

To our elected officials: Be bold, be consistent, be honest, be helpful

By Patrick Grubb, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Governor Jay Inslee has been… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee talks about homelessness and the climate

During an Editorial Board interview, he also discussed a wide range of other issues on the state agenda.

We need to, but how do we talk about race?

Racism is still an issue in this country. How can we have constructive conversations to move forward and heal?

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Despite ruling on Public Records Act, we need to keep a close eye on Olympia

Washington Supreme Court upholds that state legislators are subject to the Public Records Act.

Mind over miles: Thoughts from the Seattle Half Marathon

Reporter runs the 13.1-mile race in 2:01:40.

Professionals in a second language | Windows and Mirrors

What is it like to pursue a career in a language that is not your first?

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Let’s clear the air on wildfires, climate change

Agreement and commitment is needed to address the causes of wildfires and climate change.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Republican’s write-in campaign highlights post-primary intrigue | Roegner

Can former Bothell mayor beat two Democrats for lieutenant governor post?