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.

  • Thursday, January 2, 2020 12:33pm
  • Opinion

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 Another bill proposed by Democratic lawmakers was withdrawn in 2019 after being subjected to withering criticism.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.




In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.
Age of insanity for the left and the right

Do you feel that, like the COVID-19 pandemic, insane behavior is spreading… Continue reading

Don Brunell
Coronavirus comeback for Alaska Airlines?

It is no secret that airlines were clobbered by the coronavirus pandemic.… Continue reading

Face masks save lives and jobs across Washington

Wearing a mask saves lives and saves jobs. And all across the… Continue reading

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

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

Ranked choice voting would strengthen our democracy

Although our beloved democracy is facing many challenges (voter suppression and attacks… Continue reading

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Stopping COVID is now up to each of us

With a resurgence threatening, we need to take greater responsibility to keep the virus in check.

Why this newspaper is capitalizing Black | Editorial

Moving forward, the Snoqualmie Valley Record will capitalize Black when referring to… 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

Bob Roegner
Democrats have the edge in WA’s 2020 elections

Last year, most political insiders thought 2020 would be a big Democratic… Continue reading

Superintendent Robert Manahan
We must stand up for justice, equality and respect | Guest column

Dear Snoqualmie Valley students, staff and families, It’s hard to put into… Continue reading