Senators send Majority Leader letter about transparency abuses
Last week was not the Senate’s best week when it comes to legislative transparency. First the Senate Government Operations Committee chose not to act on SB 5419 (legislative transparency) by the first cutoff despite the support of the State Auditor and Attorney General.
Then even lawmakers were kept in the dark about the bills being heard at public hearings. As we highlighted earlier last week, Sen. Honeyford (ranking member of the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee) ultimately walked out of Monday’s hearing after his complaints were ignored that the Committee was moving on substitutes and holding a public hearing without adequate notice for either the public or members.
As a result of this experience the minority members of that Committee sent a letter to Majority Leader Lisa Brown. From their letter:
“Between your Monday blog post asserting ‘legislators have embraced a politics of collaboration rather than of partisanship and division,’ and the scorn that has rightfully been directed toward the Legislature for recent and well-documented failures to be open and transparent, we members of the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee were surprised and disappointed by Monday’s committee proceedings.
The lack of consideration for the public and minority party was so prevalent that the ranking member left before the meeting ended, having had more than he could tolerate . . .
SB 5815 is the most egregious example, but not only because of the surprise public hearing and vote that followed immediately. Even though none of us or the general public knew the bill would be heard, two county officials were present to testify in support of the measure. How that happened we can only guess, but is suggests an unseemly sort of collusion that again shut the public out of the process . . .
We certainly had hoped this session would not bring more of the surprise public hearings, votes on ‘ghost’ bills and other tactics that prompted responses such as Senate Bill 5419, which would mandate specific notice and waiting periods before legislative action. However, the EWE committee’s proceedings were not only reminiscent of what we saw in 2009 and 2010 but also did not represent, as your Monday blog put it, ‘working honestly together.’”
Though the letter was sent on Tuesday, according to Sen. Honeyford, no response from Sen. Brown has been received yet.
We sent Majority Leader Brown a letter last year documenting our concerns with legislative transparency abuses. No response was ever sent.
As he did during Monday’s hearing, Sen. Honeyford on Thursday night objected to holding a public hearing on a bill that was not added to the Ways and Means Committee agenda until an hour after the hearing started. The Chair ultimately decided to postpone the hearing until Friday morning since the bill wasn’t on the agenda when the Committee waived the five day notice requirement. Here is a short video of that exchange:
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?
Are there at least 25 Senators willing to bring SB 5419 (legislative transparency) to the Senate floor for amendment and consideration before the March 7 cutoff?
Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He serves on the Executive Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and is the private sector chairman of ALEC’s Fiscal Federalism Working Group. He is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News, serves on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, and was an advisor to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee. In June 2010, Governor Gregoire appointed Jason as WPC’s representative on her Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Panel. Jason holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washington State University.