Today, The Olympian joins other groups across the country in paying special attention to Sunshine Week, an opportunity to focus public attention on the importance of an open and accessible government.
Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofit organizations, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
Though spearheaded by journalists, Sunshine Week – Sunday through Saturday – is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.
What better way to celebrate Sunshine Week than to point to the repeated times this year when the state House of Representatives and state Senate have trampled all over the public’s right to know by moving bills without public hearings, by routinely waiving the five-day requirement for public hearing notices, by adding bills to committee agenda with only a few hours notice, or in some cases, no public notice.
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Democrats in control of the House and Senate have made a mockery of the legislative process. They have thumbed their noses at constituents at many turns. Their attitude seems to be “the public and the process be dammed.”
How does that build trust? What message do these violations of public trust send to voters and constituents? The majority party is determined to push its list of favored legislation forward and if they bend the rules or exclude the public altogether in the process – oh well.
It’s wrong and Democrats in the House and Senate should be ashamed.
Olympia’s own Rep. Sam Hunt, chair of the House State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee, missed the mark in February when he and his colleagues voted House Bill 1899 out of committee before holding a public hearing on the legislation to change the penalties for public records violations.
How ironic that Hunt got it wrong on a public records bill. Hunt admitted that he got it “backwards” and apologized. promising to hold a hearing after the committee vote. “We can always reconsider and re-vote on it. Sorry about that,” Hunt said.
Hunt’s blunder pales in consideration to House Bill 2011 which deals with Department of Corrections’ employees collective bargaining rights. The bill was introduced on a Saturday, more than a week after the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline to move bills out of committee.
No problem. Democrats simply suspended their rules and sent the bill directly to the House floor for a vote – not even a sham public hearing or a committee vote.
Here are a few – in a long list – of other transgressions.
On Feb. 2, the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education held a public hearing on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s 97-page bill to completely overhaul the public education system in this state. It’s a huge shift in state policy. But the hearing was held on the same day the voluminous bill was introduced, making meaningful testimony impossible.
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, the ranking member of the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee, got so fed up with the way the committee chairman was dealing with substitute bills and holding hearings without proper notice, he walked out of a committee meeting.
Senate Bill 6889 is another good example. The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing last year on the bill a day before the bill was even introduced.
The litany of abuses in the 2011 session goes on and on and on.
Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center in Olympia and a keen legislative watchdog and open-government crusader, looks at a list of legislative abuses he has compiled and asks, “Do the honorable members of the Senate truly believe the routine waiving of the five-day notice requirement for public hearings and adding bills for public debate on the same day is what passes for an open and transparent public process?”
House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown could put an end to these abuses of public trust if they so desired. The problem is, Chopp and Brown clearly don’t desire. They prefer the status quo: trampling on the rights of the public to be heard on pending legislation in a meaningful way.
In this week of emphasis on open and transparent government, Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate earn a failing grade. The public should be outraged.