It might seem kind of wonky to think about how public records are handled in our state, but it’s SUPER important if you’ve ever appreciated learning about game-changing things going on around you, like this and this and this. So we’re gonna break this whole thing down for you.
What even is a public record?
Public records include everything from public officials’ calendars, emails, text messages, and e-mails to their disciplinary records and birth dates.
Isn’t that stuff private?
Not when you’re a public official, according to Washington State’s Public Records Act, which voters here approved in 1972.
Why’s it so important that these kind of documents aren’t private?
Since we live in a representative democracy, we elect public officials to represent our voices and concerns. Those officials conduct a lot of their business over emails and text messages. When they’re able to hide those documents from their constituents, it makes it harder for us to determine whether they’re actually serving our interests and using their time (and our tax dollars) effectively.
So why’s everyone so upset about this new bill?
Democratic and Republican members of the State House and Senate took just two days — break-neck speed for state officials — to approve a bill that allows them to pick and choose which public records are released to their constituents, a.k.a. all of us. The new bill also keeps secret old records from being publicly released.
Right? And it gets worse: Up until last week’s vote, concerned citizens and reporters have been able to appeal state officials’ refusal to release public records to the courts. This new bill, if passed into law, would prevent them from doing even that.
So why exactly do legislators want this bill passed?
State politicians have said this bill gives them the privacy to do their jobs more effectively and that it would improve government transparency. They’ve also said that individual politicians can always choose to release more information than outlined in the new bill. Local news outlets disagree.
Got more questions? We’ve got more answers. Plus — what you can do if you want to make a difference in all this. (Spoiler alert: call your legislator.)
»» Check out the rest of our public records breakdown at theevergrey.com.