A season for bills to die, live

To everything, there is a good-government season; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

One good government-ism cast away was a state House bill that would have required lobbyists to file itemized expenses electronically. The measure was in response to an investigative report last year by KUOW’s Austin Jenkins and The Associated Press, which highlighted the unseemly but perfectly legal pageant of legislators accepting $65,000 in free meals from the state’s top 50 lobbyists in the first four months of 2013 alone.

Free grub and entertainment, every day or every other day, but, ahem, no quid pro quos. (Note as well: Lawmakers shouldn’t be pocketing per diems if they’re landing supper for free.)

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, chair of the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, was the biggest offender, accepting $2,000 in meals and attending 62 lobby dinners.

Jenkins and the AP took three weeks to piece together a database. The value of tough-to-unearth data is just that: Other than newshounds, who can dedicate weeks to ferreting out information on lawmakers’ acceptance of gratis meals?

As Jenkins reports, a bill requiring lobbyists file their reports electronically passed the House unanimously, but it was throttled in the Senate. The Senate also tried to direct the Legislative Ethics Board to define “infrequent meals” (by appearances, not something many lawmakers practice.) That effort also cratered.

Both measures prove the axiom, that the state Senate is the natal stream where good bills swim against the current to die.

A bill requiring public officials receive training on public records requests is a good government-ism that swam the natal stream successfully. Thanks to Senate Bill 5964, appointed and elected office holders will receive training on Washington’s open government statutes within 90 days of assuming office. The mission is both to educate and to tamp down on unintended violations.

“Open government is vital to a free and informed society,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who shepherded the legislation. “This new law will enhance government transparency and ensure that public officials know and understand our state’s public disclosure laws, which were overwhelmingly approved by the voters.”

Just one quibble: The bill does not extend to state legislators because they’re not subject to the Public Records Act (!) But there is a season for quibbling, and it usually arrives the day after the session adjourns, sine die.

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