Washington lawmakers can now withhold records pertaining to individuals with whom they have corresponded when drafting laws following a Thurston County judge’s ruling last week.
Judge Anna Egeler sided with the State of Washington and said that even under the Public Records Act, state representatives, senators and legislative employees can withhold these documents.
The state cited the Speech and Debate Clause in Article 2, Section 17 of its constitution that no member of the Legislature shall be liable in any civil action or criminal prosecution … for words spoken in debate. It said that articles of the constitution should override the state’s public records act.
Critics of the ruling said that since lawmakers have the discretion to withhold records from the public, they can work behind a “veil of secrecy.”
The ruling comes after public rights advocates filed a lawsuit against the state last April, stating lawmakers were withholding documents.
Those arguing against the state said this kind of legislative privilege was not in line with the state constitution and should not be used to supersede the Public Records Act. They added it allows lawmakers to withhold all communication received from the public.
The legislature, it was argued, was not intended to work in secret.
Public rights advocates said they will appeal the ruling.