OLYMPIA — Two of the three District 24 legislators who represent Clallam and Jefferson counties signed a letter urging Gov. Jay Inslee to veto Senate Bill 6617 even though they had voted in favor of it.
State Reps. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, each signed a letter asking Inslee to veto the bill, saying the legislative process was flawed.
“Look, we make a made a mistake,” Chapman, assistant majority whip, said Friday. “I’ll be the first to admit it. This was not our finest hour.”
Said Tharinger: “I don’t think the legislation itself is flawed. It needs some work, but our process was completely flawed.”
Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, did not sign the letter urging a veto from Democratic legislators, saying he felt a full veto would slow the process of making the state Legislature more transparent.
“I wasn’t comfortable with him vetoing all of the bill because there is a need for us to disclose more” to the public, Van De Wege said. “With him vetoing the bill, it will probably take years for that to happen.”
Tharinger agreed that “as it stands now, there’s less transparency than if the bill had been signed or was allowed to become law.” But he added, “That’s moot now because the process was not good.”
None of the three thought there would be any attempt to override the governor’s veto.
“A veto override is not being considered,” Van De Wege said. “It is not going to happen.”
Said Chapman: “After this, I think everyone wants to work together to get this right, to be transparent, to go though the process and make sure the public is comfortable with the legislation that will be considered in the future.”
By signing the letter, both Tharinger and Chapman said they would not vote to override the veto.
Van De Wege said he honestly didn’t know how he would have voted, adding that it was not discussed in caucus.
Given the short time left in the current legislative session, Chapman and Tharinger agreed that the bill likely would be reintroduced next year, with Chapman predicting that public records legislation may be the “No. 1 issue facing the legislature in the next session.”
Van De Wege said that “nothing is going to happen this session. I don’t know if something is going to happen next session.”
He pointed out that, if the state Legislature wins the appeal of the Thurston County Superior Court ruling that placed legislators under the purview of the Public Records Act, “it’s a dead issue.”
All three legislators said they embrace transparency.
“I’m going to continue to release those documents like I always have,” Chapman said.
Van De Wege said his objection to the court ruling was not that it said legislators should provide information but that it said “the Legislature itself was not subject to public records law but that individual legislator offices are subject to it.”
He said would mean that all 147 legislators would have to have a public records officer for 30 hours a week, among other provisions, creating an “unworkable” situation.
“Attorneys came up with a way that the Legislature could put themselves under public records with some boundaries around it,” he said.
Chapman said the Legislature should meet with media representatives and other stakeholders to develop the new legislation.
Tharinger said there “has to be a balance” between transparency and protections for the legislative process that provide “some sort of institutional integrity.”
Finding that balance, Tharinger added, is “going to take some time.”