Statement from Rep. Terry Nealey on passage of Legislative Public Records Act – Senate Bill 6617
The House and Senate took action Friday to pass a measure that would create a more open government in the Legislature than what currently exists, but would protect constituent privacy and the legislative process.
The Legislative Public Records Act, Senate Bill 6617, passed the Senate, 41-7, and was approved in the House by a vote of 83-14. It was then sent to the governor.
Rep. Terry Nealey, whose work to reduce abusive public records requests while preserving open, transparent access to government records culminated in passage last year of two Public Records Act reform bills, voted in favor of Senate Bill 6617. He issued the following statement:
“For more than 24 years, nearly all public records in the Legislature have been closed to access from the public and the media. This legislation makes some important changes that open additional records to the public, including final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings in the Legislature, legislators' calendar details and legislator's correspondence regarding legislative business to and from lobbyists. These are records that have been previously unavailable to the public, so it does provide more transparency. Legislators are also free to release additional records as long as they do not violate a person's privacy or produce records that are confidential under state and federal law.
“We also felt the Legislature is in a unique environment that must respect the privacy of our constituents in order for it to operate effectively. While we are creating more transparency, our first job is to work on behalf of our constituents. If my constituents do not feel their private correspondence regarding important matters will remain confidential, they may not be open to me about those issues, and I cannot do my job to effectively represent their interests.
“We also recognize the media who sued the Legislature to open every single legislative record, including constituent correspondence to the public, are not satisfied with this bill and have been openly critical of those who voted for it. However, the court ruling that treated individual legislators as separate, individual state agencies, was unworkable and would have paralyzed the Legislature from doing its job, not to mention the costs and the estimated 30 hours per week involved fulfilling public records requests. This was a concern I had when I worked last year on public records reform for our other government agencies.
“I am a strong supporter of open, transparent government, so when this bill was presented, I considered it very carefully and did not cast my vote lightly. In the end, however, I felt I must protect the confidentiality of the constituents I serve, while opening the door to other legislative records that had not been previously accessible. I believe this bill strikes a fair balance between legislative and open government concerns.”
###Washington State House Republican Communications