Legislators Keep SecretsMay 11th, 2009 by Steven Gardner
In 2007 I was the beneficiary of serendipity, which essentially is the accidental discovery of treasure.
For a story on the scene behind the legislative scenes on the NASCAR debate, I made a public records request for all communications between legislators and other government officials about the proposal. What I did not know at the time was that e-mail communications strictly between legislators is not subject to state public disclosure rules. Legislators are exempted from the law.
The reason I was able to get the documents was because local government officials are not exempted. Since so many of the communications were copied to locals, I could have solicited the documents from several different closer sources. The lawyers working for the Legislature recognized this and recommended making all the documents available, since I could get them elsewhere.
The (Tacoma) News Tribune opines Monday that lawmakers ought to remove the exemption they keep for themselves.
“There’s no legitimate reason for legislators to avoid public scrutiny. Failure to void this exemption would send a clear signal to their constituents: Butt out.”
I guess what I enjoyed wasn’t quite serendipity. I was looking for treasure, just not at the right source. I got it anyway.
I don’t know the reasoning behind the legislators’ exemption from the law, but I can imagine that local government officials could make the same or similar arguments to remove their responsibility to be open. Maybe one of you can explain why a legislator should or should not be different from county and city officials.