It’s Sunshine Week.
For many around the nation, March 11-17 is a week that will pass by without acknowledgement of the importance of government transparency. It’s another week they won’t insist that they are entitled to access public records and have the right to monitor public employees activities, calls and social media.
But in Washington state, this year, it’s a week that the public’s right-to-know is being heralded. This year, Sunshine Week follows the successful effort of newspapers, working on the public’s behalf, in upending a couple end run attempts around state public records laws by lawmakers in Olympia.
The biggest victory came March 2, when Gov. Jay Inslee, reacting to a public outcry, vetoed Senate Bill 6617, a measure designed by lawmakers to make themselves exempt from the state Public Records Act.
The move wasn’t a Republican effort. Nor was it a Democrat effort. It was an effort by the political elite to keep themselves out of the “sunshine” following a lawsuit seeking records. Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, a Democrat from Maury Island, and Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Ritzville Republican, led the unscrupulous effort.
But newspapers objected. And thousands of readers called lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee. So, on March 2, Inslee vetoed the measure and the Legislature backed down.
It wasn’t the only attempt to hide records from the public. The Legislature also tried to exempt public employees dates of birth from disclosure so that information couldn’t be used to cross reference with police records for verification of identities. Yet, lawmakers would’ve allowed most Washingtonians’ birthdates to remain public for other purposes.
That bill died when the Legislature adjourned.
Newspapers have typically been the vanguard for open government. However, this year’s success in curtailing the Legislature’s effort to conceal public records was in large part due to residents insisting their right to know be acknowledged and respected.
Keeping records open and available, and public officials accountable, is a year-round process. It takes more than just newspapers to protect the information that rightly belongs to the public.
So, while we will remain on guard, we encourage you to take heart in your efforts this week, and every week.
We encourage you to ask for salaries, look at driving records and review cellphone logs. We encourage you to demand that public servants open their records to information you seek.
And we encourage you to celebrate Sunshine Week with us.