November 27, 2021

Governor’s public records request of lawmakers ‘bizarre and unprecedented’

2 min read

A recent public records request by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office of four Democratic senators and two Democratic committee staff members regarding emails and other materials related to their work on transportation-related legislation struck some as unusual.

Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform of the Washington Policy Center, blogged the governor “sent a very strange public records request to several Democratic Senators and legislative staff surrounding their discussion about the LCFS and Cap and Trade bills.”

The conservative nonprofit website Shift Washington called it a “bizarre and unprecedented action.”

Inslee issued partial vetoes to subsections of a cap-and-trade bill and a low carbon fuel standard bill – both of which were passed by the legislature during the 2021 session – thereby undoing the so-called “Grand Bargain” deal linking the two pieces of climate legislation to a transportation funding package, without which the bills would not have been able to take effect.

According to the deal that Inslee scuttled with his selective veto, all three of those bills needed to pass, or else risk a no-frills transportation package that passed earlier, potentially again delaying any action on climate bills.

The November 5 formal public records request from Inslee to lawmakers of his own party is a first for Mercier, as far as he can recall.

“I’m not aware of this happening before,” he said, “but I don’t know for sure.”

Senate Public Records Officer Randi Stratton confirmed that the request was a first.

“In the two years legislators have been fully subject to the Public Records Act, we’ve not received a request from the governor’s office,” Stratton said.

In December 2019, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that individual state lawmakers are subject to the state’s Public Records Act and therefore must disclose records such as emails, calendars and other working documents. The decision upheld a lower court ruling.

The high court also upheld the lower court’s finding the House and Senate as legislative bodies are not state agencies and therefore bound by a narrower public disclosure mandate.

Tara Lee, executive director of communications for the governor’s office, had previously said it was not unusual for one governmental body to ask for records from another, noting the legislature makes public records requests from the governor.

When asked about what could be viewed as a discrepancy between what she said and what Stratton said, Lee replied, “There is no discrepancy. I said the legislature regularly makes requests of our office. That’s it.”

This article was originally posted on Governor’s public records request of lawmakers ‘bizarre and unprecedented’

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