Van De Wege plans bill to force judicial branch to comply with Open Records Act

Area lawmakers also say they will focus on gaps left by Initiative 976

OLYMPIA — Sen. Kevin Van De Wege plans to introduce a bill this week to put the judicial branch of government under the regulations of the Washington Public Records Act, he said before today’s start of the legislative session.

The session is scheduled to end in 60 days on March 12. The Legislature meets for 105 days in odd-numbered years and for 60 days in even-numbered years.

Noting that the courts have found that state legislators are subject to the public records act, Van De Wege, a Democrat from Sequim, said he will propose in the bill that the judicial branch also be required to comply with it.

“They are the only remaining branch that is not subject to it,” Van De Wege said Saturday.

“There are people passionate about having access to public records, so they can make it work as well.”

The state Supreme Court ruled in December that state lawmakers are subject to the same public disclosure rules that apply to other elected officials and agencies. The court was ruling on an appeal sparked by a September 2017 lawsuit filed by a media coalition led by The Associated Press that included Sound Publishing Inc., which owns the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum.

The lawsuit sought sexual harassment reports, calendar entries and other documents.

“We have the court ruling and we’re going to make it work,” Van De Wege said.

Rep. Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat, said he would support Van De Wege’s bill to make the judicial branch subject to the act.

“The public wants a government that’s transparent,” Chapman said.

I-976 effects

Van De Wege, Chapman and Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Democrat from Port Townsend — who represent the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County — all said that they will be concerned with moving money to fill gaps left by the passage of Initiative 976, which cuts car tabs to $30.

“My biggest priority is that we have to rewrite the Transportation budget,” Chapman said.

“My biggest fear is that we will lose projects on the (North Olympic) Peninsula.

“I-976 took away $1.9 billion (over the next six years),” Chapman added. “We’ve gone in the wrong direction.

“It’s going to be an impact on our local economy.”

He said his goal is to preserve funding for the Elwha Bridge replacement on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles, the Morse Creek safety project on Highway 101 to the east of Port Angeles and safety projects at the other end of the Peninsula, such as the roundabouts planned near Shine.

Chapman said he is not giving up hope on the Sequim corridor project while both Van De Wege and Tharinger believe that project, which has not been funded yet, will be delayed.

“I don’t think we will see new money to keep projects whole,” said Tharinger, who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee. “It may be delayed until the next biennium.”

Chapman also said he will work hard to fund court-mandated culvert replacement.

“It’s great for fish habitat but it also is local contractors in rural areas who get these jobs.”

Chapman remarked that Transit services are in peril “and I’m not willing to sit back and watch the cuts for our most vulnerable citizens.”

Lawsuits are moving through the courts in regard to the Tim Eyman initiative passed by voters in November.

Tharinger noting that funding is stable through this year, said that funds should be put into a separate account and not spent until “we see what the court case comes up with.”

He added that “some folks will want to take a run at the operating budget but I don’t think that‘s going to happen.”

Van De Wege said that it may be possible to move some general fund revenue into Transportation projects, “but we can’t afford to do that much. We’ll mostly be cutting projects and services.”

Housing

Affordable housing and homelessness is on the minds of all three as they begin the short session.

Van De Wege said he has a hesitation about taking money from the Budget Stabilization Account, known as the rainy day fund, to fight homelessness, as Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed.

“Homelessness is a crisis,” he said. “It’s just that we are eventually going to have a recession and we need to have a rainy day account.”

Recession is predicted by state economists for the end of the year, he said.

Tharinger believes Inslee’s proposal lacks sufficient votes in the Legislature.

He plans to be either the primary or secondary sponsor on a bill to streamline aspects of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund administered by the state Department of Commerce.

Chapman said that the issue of homelessness will be “a big priority for the Legislature this year.

“We did put some policies in place but we may need to look for grants and other funding mechanisms for local entities for housing, such as streamlining permitting.

“All ideas are on the table,” he said.

Other goals

Van De Wege said legislation this session will promote the planting of trees to sequester carbon.

Tharinger plans a work session on streamlining the process for establishing daycare and early learning centers.

“It’s more complicated than it needs to be,” he said,adding that a lack of child care is “a huge issue.”

Chapman said that one of his goals is to finish the legislative session on time.

“We will be done in 60 days,” he said. “I am confident that will happen.”

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

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