Washington Supreme Court rules state legislators subject to open records law

Washington Supreme Court rules state legislators subject to open records law

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that state legislators are subject to open records laws after a contentious legal battle.

In a 7-2 vote, justices sided with the news organizations headed by The Associated Press, who sued the Legislature over claims that lawmakers’ offices were not subject to the Public Records Act, The Seattle Times reported.

Justice Susan Owens wrote that under the act, “individual legislators’ offices are ‘agencies’ subject to the PRA’s general public records disclosure mandate,” according to the Times. But Owens wrote that the Legislature’s administrative offices do not qualify as “agencies,” so the open records law applies more narrowly to them.

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Ten news organizations filed the suit after lawmakers declined to release records, like emails, work calendars and reports relating to harassment allegations, citing a 1995 change in the 1971 Public Records Act that was interpreted to allow legislators to withhold those records, the Times reported. 

A majority of justices supported making legislators subject to the act, but four justices total signed the plurality opinion adding that the law should apply to Legislature’s institutional bodies as well. 

State House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D) released a statement saying the House Democrats were committed to an “open and accountable government.”

“We are still reviewing the Court’s decision to determine its specific impacts, and will work with our colleagues in the House and Senate to move forward on implementing the decision to ensure transparency in government for Washingtonians,” she said.

Last year, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese decided partly in favor of the news organizations but said the law does not apply to the House and Senate administrative offices, according to the Times.

Lawmakers made two efforts to pass a bill to change the public records law throughout the legal battle, with one bill being introduced and passed in 48 hours, before Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBloomberg, Steyer focus on climate change in effort to stand out Our government and public institutions must protect us against the unvaccinated Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE (D) vetoed it.

The Supreme Court held hearings in June on this case where the Legislature’s attorneys said lawmakers’ efforts to be transparent should allow them to continue to be exempt from the open records act, the newspaper reported.