Some prominent folks in the news business showed up in Olympia this week to argue against House Bill 1533, which would exempt from public disclosure most records associated with state and school district employees who are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment, or stalking.
If that sounds like a really difficult idea to oppose, you’re not wrong. This was a big topic at the Washington Coalition for Open Government shindig last week. The government transparency group opposes the bill by Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, because the barrier to claiming such an exemption would be quite low. The employee in question would simply have to file a written affidavit, at which point they would essentially cease to exist for purposes of public records.
Seattle Times Investigations Editor Jonathan Martin was the first media figure to testify in the Senate State Government & Election Committee on Tuesday. Looking deeply uncomfortable, he reeled off a series of impactful stories based on public records that would never have happened had the subject invoked such an exemption.
His testimony was sandwiched between harrowing stories of abuse and stalking from survivors. Committee Chair Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, seemed open to addressing open-government advocates’ concerns. But they’re playing defense here. The bill passed the House 80-15 with a highly bipartisan majority. The Public Records Act is riddled with exemptions and loopholes because of this kind of thing.
This story first appeared in the author’s The Washington Observer.