Common sense says the emails of the Washington State Legislature should be public records, and consequently available to the public. Especially with how broad and expansive Washington’s general public records statute is (and applies to the other state and local government agencies).
Over the weekend, the Tacoma News Tribune ran a wire story about the restrictiveness of legislative records. The Associated Press (who wrote the article) investigated public records in the Washington State and were denied email records of legislators.
I wrote about this issue in Jan. 2016 on my constitutional law blog, IntermediateScrutiny.com. In that article I argued that Washington’s separate more restrictive public records law just for the Washington State Legislature is unconstitutional.
But back to the news story. The AP requested records from Gov. Jay Inslee and four leading legislators (two democrats and two republicans). This is what happened:
Emails and schedules from the week of Feb. 1-Feb. 7 were not provided by the offices of Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island.
In denying the request, their offices cited a definition of “legislative records” in the Public Records Act which exempts “reports or correspondence made or received” by individual members of the Legislature. The definition, put into place when the act became law in the early 1970s, does not include daily schedules as a legislative record.
The legislative records law effectively allows Washington State Legislators to pick and choose when they want to make their records public — mostly the Legislators do not like the scrutiny and keep them private. Not only does the legislative records law prevent residents of Washington from making a full determination of how their Legislator is performing and evaluating the government as a whole, but it places the Washington Legislature on a public records pedestal where they do not have to comply with public records requests that other state and local agencies would have to.
What do you think of it? Leave a response in the comments. I would be interested to hear what you think.