Kento Azegami (left) and Jeanne Blackburn answer phones at the front desk at Gov. Jay Inslee’s office in Olympia on Thursday. Inslee’s office has been receiving thousands of emails and phone calls asking him to veto a bill passed hastily by the Legislature last week that would circumvent a recent court ruling that found state lawmakers are fully subject to the state’s Public Records Act. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Kento Azegami (left) and Jeanne Blackburn answer phones at the front desk at Gov. Jay Inslee’s office in Olympia on Thursday. Inslee’s office has been receiving thousands of emails and phone calls asking him to veto a bill passed hastily by the Legislature last week that would circumvent a recent court ruling that found state lawmakers are fully subject to the state’s Public Records Act. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

With midnight deadline, Inslee considers records-bill veto

The bill would specify that the voter-approved Public Records Act does not apply to the Legislature.

By Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is weighing whether or not to veto a bill hastily passed by the Washington Legislature last week that circumvents a recent court ruling that found lawmakers are fully subject to the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act.

Inslee has until midnight Thursday to take one of four options available to him: He can sign the measure, veto it completely, partially veto it, or take no action, in which case it would become law immediately.

The bill that passed Friday would retroactively specify that the state’s voter-approved Public Records Act does not apply to the legislative branch.

The bill creates a more limited legislative disclosure obligation for legislative records and would allow release of some lawmaker correspondence and records beginning on July 1.

Inslee’s office said it had received more than 5,500 phone calls, 100 letters and more than 11,500 emails regarding the bill, with the vast majority asking for his veto.

The bill passed the Senate on a 41-7 vote and was quickly approved by the House 83-14.

Despite the two-thirds majorities that all but ensured a potential veto override, proponents of open government urged the governor to force lawmakers to reconsider their votes, in part because of the rushed process.

The bill was introduced just two days before it was passed, and lawmakers overrode all normal legislative procedures to quickly advance it with minimal public input.

More than a dozen newspapers ran front-page editorials urging Inslee to veto the bill that was co-sponsored by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler.

On Tuesday, the state’s Sunshine Committee adopted a resolution to express concern about the lack of public process in advancing the bill and asked Inslee for a full or partial veto.

The bipartisan bill prohibits the release of lawmaker communication with constituents but allows release of some lawmaker correspondence beginning on July 1 with lobbyists, information from lawmaker calendars and final disciplinary reports.

Because the bill is retroactive, it would prohibit the release of records being sought by the coalition of news organizations, led by The Associated Press and including Daily Herald parent Sound Publishing, that sued last September and who prevailed in an initial court ruling last month in Thurston County. The Legislature is appealing that ruling.

Under the measure, exemptions from disclosure would include records of policy development, as well as any records that would violate an individual’s right to privacy.

While final disciplinary reports against lawmakers would be subject to disclosure, emails or other documentation of allegations involving sexual harassment or misconduct that doesn’t result in an official report — which were among the records the news coalition was seeking — would not.

Any person wanting to challenge a records denial would have to seek review by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee or the House Executive Rules Committee, whose rulings would be final. No review by the courts would be allowed.

The measure would take effect immediately, ensuring there could be no referendum effort to ask voters to approve or reject the legislation.

However, citizen initiatives are another option, and initiative promoter Tim Eyman has already filed a ballot measure proposal with the secretary of state’s office that would subject state lawmakers to the Public Records Act. In order to make the November ballot, Eyman would need to collect signatures from nearly 260,000 registered voters by July 6.

Besides AP and The Daily Herald, the groups involved in the lawsuit are: public radio’s Northwest News Network, KING-TV, KIRO 7, Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, The Spokesman-Review, the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, Tacoma News Inc. and The Seattle Times.

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