It was a victory for the people of the state, but the battle for government accountability isn’t over.
Nor will it ever end.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers in Olympia bowed to a remarkable amount of outrage from the general public and news media from across the state over a hastily passed bill that would have allowed legislators to avoid the state’s Public Records Act.
It’s a law — approved by state voters more than four decades ago — which every state and local agency must abide by.
The veto reveals just how powerful the voice of the people really is.
On Thursday night, Inslee vetoed the bill at the behest of Democratic members of the Senate and House. A total of 18,850 people emailed and called the governor’s office asking him to veto the bill.
Newspapers around the state published front-page editorials calling on Inslee to veto the bill.
In the end, lawmakers heard the outcry and responded accordingly. They worked out a deal with an attorney representing a coalition of newspapers — including the Whidbey News-Times’ parent company, Sound Publishing — that earlier had sued the legislature for not abiding by public records rules.
The newspapers won in Superior Court but agreed to ask for a stay on the decision until the appeals court weighs in.
Lawmakers now say they will convene a committee that includes representatives from newspaper and open government advocates to look at possible amendments to the law.
Many lawmakers now concede that the rushed and secretive process of passing the bill was a serious mistake. The bill, a response to the court decision, was passed in 48 hours, without any public comment or debate.
State Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, both voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, did not vote.
It’s especially troubling that Hayes supported the bill. He works for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, which must abide by the public records law.
One of the things the legislative bill would have kept from public disclosure were documents related to allegations of sexual misconduct by lawmakers.
One would think a law enforcement officer such as Hayes would seek to protect potential victims by bringing such serious allegations into the sunshine.
Initiative king Tim Eyman proposed what may be the best solution to the issue — he filed a potential initiative that would ensure the Legislature is subject to public records law. It would need more than 250,000 signatures to land on the November ballot.
Even with the governor’s veto and the possible initiative, it isn’t assured that lawmakers will ultimately open their records to the public.
It’s up to the people to remain vigilant, stay involved and ensure their voices are heard.
Kudos to Inslee for making the right call, and to those citizens and the newspapers that took a swing at government secrecy and landed a direct hit.