A bill proposed by state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, would pave the way for disciplinary action against state officials and employees who knowingly provide false or misleading testimony to the state Legislature.
Too often, Walsh believes, officials have knowingly misled legislators, knowing there isn’t any law that prohibits lying or hiding certain facts while testifying.
“People who testify in front of the Legislature are never sworn in. There is no clear link that if you deliver knowingly false information you can be terminated,” Walsh said. “What the bill does is change the existing Revised Code of Washington so there’s a clear link.”
If House Bill 2414 were to pass, anyone could submit a complaint to the state’s civil service review, after which the Human Resources Department would look at potential misinformation and decide on a punishment.
“All it does is use the existing enforcement structure,” he said, adding that those accused of lying would still have the chance to defend themselves. “It’s not a court of law, more like a union grievance action.”
Walsh said he sees it as a deterrent. “I think it would be a bright line that would deter testimony that at best is sort of spin, and at worst is false testimony.”
Walsh said agencies will likely point to departments that have their own existing ethical guidelines that forbid misinformation as a reason to oppose his bill. But he doesn’t feel those restrictions are enough.
“Different versions of this bill have been around Olympia for several years. I took some of the best pieces of those other versions and put them together, narrowed them down and tightly focused them on a specific charge,” said Walsh, in a press release. “Employees of state agencies who knowingly present false information to a legislative committee should be fired.”
The motivation for Walsh’s bill came primarily from hunters and fishermen who contend staff at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have given misleading testimony about hunting permit fees, the use of the fee proceeds, and a recent elk disease.
The WDFW did not respond to The Daily World’s request for comment on those complaints.
“It’s interesting who thinks the bill is directed at them,” Walsh said. “More think it is directed at them than is actually the truth, which suggests to me that this might be a legitimate issue.
“It stuns me that there is currently no existing law on this subject. It should be illegal for an employee or representative of a state agency to lie knowingly to the Legislature.”
HB 2414 has been referred to the House State Government, Elections and Information Technology Committee in advance of a public hearing.