Local State Representatives Answer Records Request, Though House Challenges Legal Mandate

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All four area state House representatives last week released information requested by The Chronicle, despite clarification from a state official that the disclosure was voluntary and not required by state public records law.

State Reps. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, all provided their legislative calendars in response to a public records request from The Chronicle. 

The request and response was facilitated by the House Public Affairs Office, though the office noted in an email that the Legislature still considers itself exempt from public records law until the legal case regarding the issue is resolved. The Legislature has appealed the Thurston County Superior Court ruling that subjected it to public records requirements to the Washington State Supreme Court.

The Legislature was sued by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, the Associated Press and other media organizations after it denied requests for records of sexual assault and harassment complaints. 

The case has not been resolved since Gov. Jay Inslee issued a veto March 1 on a hastily-passed bill to retroactively exempt lawmakers from many disclosures, a response to the Superior Court ruling that legislators admitted was a mistake after a firestorm of public backlash. Walsh was the only local official to vote against the bill. 

Nevertheless, with the Legislature gaveled out for the session, and the legal matter still not settled, all four House members complied with The Chronicle’s request for their calendars. The request submitted March 8 asked for calendars for the next month. Blake and DeBolt submitted their schedules from March 8-April 8. Walsh’s records dated from March 5-April 13. Orcutt submitted his schedule for the period the House was in session, Jan. 8-March 8.

The schedules are nothing out of the ordinary, filled with staff and constituent meetings, events at schools and women’s clubs and leadership boards and county governments. Blake’s schedule included a few redacted items.

Sens. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Dean Takko, D-Longview, responded to the same records request to note their intent to comply. In an email, a Senate public records official said they expect to provide the calendars by March 30.