Viewpoint: Bill Robs the Public of Its Right to Know

The Olympian

Olympia, WA - 2/24/03 - House Bill 1985 is such a loser it doesn't even deserve a public hearing, let alone a vote, in the House State Government Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland, is a direct assault on the public's right to know what its elected officials are up to. It's yet another proposal to weaken this state's Open Public Meetings Act.

Members of the House committee can save themselves time and effort by burying this bill so deep it never sees the light of day.

Nixon's bill says it's the intent of the Legislature to clarify the Open Public Meetings Act so that governing officials may caucus by political party affiliation.

The bill says, "At any meeting of the governing body of a public agency where that governing body is composed of officials elected or appointed on the basis of political party affiliation, members of that governing body of the same political party may caucus as a group without that caucus being open to the public."

Think about the consequences.

Say Thurston County commissioners, who are elected by political party, get into a heated discussion about the controversial plan to build a sports complex near Lacey and a conference/visual arts center in Olympia.

This bill would allow all three commissioners to go behind closed doors, hash out their differences and establish their respective positions, returning to public session only long enough to cast a final vote.

All the details would have been worked out in secret.

It could happen on any issue.

The public has a right to see the deliberations of its elected officials.

HB 1985 kills that opportunity.

It's a losing proposition for members of the public and all those who believe an open and accessible government is a cornerstone of democracy.

Lawmakers must reject House Bill 1985 outright.


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