Washington Supreme Court Hears Arguments about Legislature’s Public Documents

The Washington Supreme Court will likely decide what documents related to the state legislature must be released as public records.

The Washington Supreme Court will likely decide what documents related to the state legislature must be released as public records. Trapezondal/Shutterstock


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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Alabama may eliminate an elected state school board … Oregon tries to manage a growing wolf population … A men-only retreat stirs controversy.

The Washington Supreme Court will likely decide what documents related to the state legislature must be released as public records. The judges, who heard oral arguments on Tuesday, will determine  whether the legislature should be treated differently than other government agencies that have to release documents to the public. Legislators lost their case before a state superior court in January of 2018, and weeks later rewrote part of state law to partially exempt themselves from disclosure requests. After 20,000 calls and emails arrived in Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, he vetoed the legislation. Many constituents quoted the 1972 Washington Public Records Act, which states that citizens “do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.” The legislature contends that hiding some documents is in the public interest. “The value of transparency in government is very strong, but that value has to be weighed against other public interests such as privacy and the proper functioning of government. The public records act recognizes that balance both by defining the scope of its application and its many exceptions,” said Paul Lawrence, an attorney representing the Legislature. The suit was brought by two news organizations, The Seattle Times and the Associated Press, which argue that lawmakers’ individual offices are state agencies and therefore bound by law to release requested documents. “There can be—and has been no dispute—that if the defendants are agencies then the records requested are public records,” said Michele Earl-Hubbard, the attorney representing the news organizations. [Union Bulletin; Seattle Times]

SCRAPPING THE SCHOOL BOARD | Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is urging voters to pass a measure on a March 2020 ballot that would eliminate the state’s elected school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Last month, the state Senate approved the plan to change education leadership in the state, with Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh saying that something needed to be done to fix the state’s low rankings on education standards. “Everybody admits what we’ve got now is not working. The stats tell you that. We’ve done a lot of research to look at what’s the best form of governance to get education policy moving forward in the right direction. We’ve got to sell that to the people of this state. They’ve got to make the ultimate decision,” said Marsh. Ivey is now urging residents to vote for the constitutional amendment when it appears on the ballot. "As a former teacher, I recognize that strong leadership and a strong plan are necessary components to improving our education system," Ivey said in a statement. But critics said that the move is a power grab by the governor. Stephanie Bell, who has served on the Board of Education since 1995, said that elected education officials are more responsive to constituent concerns than an appointed board would be. “[With appointments,] you don’t have real representation. You don’t have someone you can call and ask for help. And you don’t have someone you can work with to impact your district,” Bell said. Alabama is currently one of only seven states that has an elected school board. [FOX 10; Alabama.com; Education Week; Montgomery Advertiser]

WOLVES | Oregon fish and wildlife commissioners have released a revised wolf plan detailing how the department plans to set protocols for hunting and killing the animals if they attack livestock. The plan comes after a decade of wolf population expansion. Oregon now has about 140 wolves, which wildlife biologist and state commissioner Holly Akenson said is impressive. “For someone like me, who has looked forward to seeing wolves living free on our landscape, it’s time to celebrate,” said Akenson. But ranchers disagreed. “All of the economic burdens of wolves are born by ranchers. We suffer killed animals, weight loss, reproductive failure, and have the burden of labor and responsibility and the cost of nonlethal controls,” said rancher Veril Nelson, representing the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. Conservationists have argued that wolves should only be killed on the rarest of occasions. “A bigger underlying problem we have is with [the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife]’s approach with wolf conservation, which has been to address conflicts by killing wolves after depredation has occurred rather than focusing on preventing conflicts in the first place,” said Sristi Kamal, senior Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also disapproves of the plan. "Wolves are part of the landscape, and as their numbers increase and stabilize, we must ensure that Oregon has an effective plan to protect and continue to grow Oregon's wolf population,” she said in a statement. [Oregon Public Broadcasting; Capital Press]

MEN-ONLY RETREAT | The Bohemian Club, an exclusive group with a confidential membership list that includes journalists, business leaders, and former presidents and FBI directors, is facing scrutiny from Sonoma County, California, over security costs for their all-male annual retreat. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has approved a security contract that includes police deputies for the past 14 years. Now, female county officials are questioning whether tax-funded services should be given to an event that “openly discriminates against women.” Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane first raised the issue. “Women’s rights are being shredded throughout the country, and we are kept out of decision-making. This is another way it’s happening in our own backyard,” said Zane.  Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, the first female supervisor of her district, which includes the retreat site, joined in the criticism. “Bohemian Grove has always been a strange anachronism in my district. It’s 2,700 acres of mystery I haven’t been allowed to set foot on,” she said. The supervisors have asked county attorneys to study if the event meets a threshold for discrimination that would allow them to deny it public security. [Los Angeles Times; ABC News]

POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY | After a weekend in Chicago that saw 39 people shot, Mayor Lori Lightfoot held her second “Accountability Monday” with Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and all 22 police district commanders. Lightfoot said the goal of these meetings is to “build a foundation to really move the violence number down fairly dramatically.” Johnson said that he is enjoying the chance to work more closely with city leadership. “There’s nothing wrong with having another set of eyes looking at what we’re doing. So when we talk about different things, it may bring some things to light that districts across the city can emulate that other districts are doing that are working,” Johnson said. Following Monday’s meeting, the police announced a plan to designate “Business Liaison Officers” available at all times to local businesses, so that they can more easily report shootings and robberies. Lightfoot said she is pleased with the progress thus far, but added that “obviously there’s more work that needs to be done. We see levels of violence that no other major city does.” [Chicago Tribune; FOX 32]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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