Supreme Court determines legislators subject to Public Records Act

(STAFF REPORTS/Chewelah Independent)

MORE DISCLOSURE: Court rules WA House and Senate are not state agencies and must disclose records like emails…

Last week, the Washington Supreme Court determined in a 7-2 decision that state lawmakers are subject to the state’s Public Records Act and must disclose records like emails and calendars, the Northwest News Network is reporting.

The ruling upholds lower courts rulings that lawmakers are not state agencies, but also that they are subject to the Public Records Act. They will have to disclose things like email conversations, schedules, budgets, financials and payroll records.

Several news organizations filed a lawsuit after 163 public records requests to lawmakers in the House and Senate were denied during a six month period in 2017.
Legislators tried to pass a bill in 2018 exempting themselves from releasing certain public records, but Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the bill. He did so after 19,000 letters, emails and calls came in opposing the bill.

The court did rule that since legislatures admin offices are not agencies, certain internal documents could be withheld.

The Public Records Act requires government entities to release documents such as emails and calendars of public officials. Legislators have argued that in their case, communication with constituents is unique and should be allowed to remain confidential. New organizations have said that legislators are not immune to the act.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to a lower court to work out the release of records that has been requested by the media and determine penalties for the violations of the Public Records Act by legislators. A judge could impose a $100 per day penalty on records that were wrongfully withheld.

Legislators used two private law firms in this case and paid them about $350,000.