Peninsula member of public records task force describes first meeting

OLYMPIA — The 24th District’s state senator was upbeat Wednesday after the task force he’s on met to to discuss the release of legislators’ emails and other records.

Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, a Democrat who represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County, joined other lawmakers, members of the public and media representatives serving on the Legislative Task Force on Public Records who met Wednesday.

“I think we made a lot of headway, absolutely,” Van De Wege said Wednesday afternoon after the group met for three hours.

“Absolutely, there’s some hope.”

A coalition of media groups — including Sound Publishing, which owns Peninsula Daily News, the Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum — sued last year over disclosure of legislators’ records under the state Public Records Act after Van De Wege and other legislators argued the law did not apply to them.

A Thurston County judge ruled in January that state legislators are subject to the same public disclosure requirements that apply to other local and state officials.

Lawmakers tried changing the state voter-approved Public Records Act retroactively, producing a fast-track bill that overrode normal legislative procedures.

The move, widely criticized by the public and by media groups, was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The court ruling has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“The purpose of the task force is to kind of review things,” Van De Wege said.

“A couple of us spoke up and said, ‘let’s come up with an agreement everyone can live with.’ ”

“This meeting gave some background, and this was background from [the] legislative side.”

Van De Wege, a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is one of 15 members of the task force that was formed to address disclosure of legislative records including text messages, emails and daily calendars.

The task force includes eight lawmakers, three media representatives, three members of the public and an open government advocate. Three additional meetings over the next four months will cover topics ranging from the value of open government to how local governments handle public records. Dates for the remaining meetings — which will be open to the public — have not yet been set.

Other legislators serving on the task force are senators Curtis King, Randi Becker and Sam Hunt and representatives Larry Springer, Matt Shea, Joan McBride and Mike Volz.

Also serving on the task force are Andy Hobbs, editorial director of King County publications for Sound Publishing, and David Ammons, a former longtime AP reporter who later worked for the secretary of state’s office and is now a commissioner on the Public Disclosure Commission.

With them are Diana Kramer, director of Student Publications at the University of Washington; Ray Rivera, deputy managing editor for investigations and enterprise at The Seattle Times; Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government; Candice Bock and Marty Lovinger.

Meeting participants and observers on Wednesday heard three presentations on public records from judicial, state legislative and national perspectives.

“No action was taken, but it was a good discussion,” Hobbs said in an email.

Presenters included state Court of Appeals Judge Martin Applewick, a former Washington state representative.

“There was a judge there, and we heard what other legislatures and the Congress does,” Van De Wege said.

“For the most part, those don’t disclose a lot of stuff for all the reasons we’ve already talked about.”

Van De Wege said personal emails should not be made public and was concerned that “forum” emails, commonly found on message boards, could be used by interest groups.

The second of four task force meetings will be held later in September at a date to be determined.

It will present background on public records from the media’s point of view, Van De Wege said.

Van De Wege would not address his past support of legislation that exempted him and other lawmakers from provisions of the state Public Records Act or say if, in hindsight, he has any regrets.

“I’m going down [to Olympia] with a desire to come up with an agreement that everyone can live with,” he said Wednesday morning on his way to the Capitol.

“Everyone has to give a little.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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