In the KING 5 Investigators office, Susannah Frame and I have big, blue filing cabinets loaded with thousands of pages of public records.
They’re artifacts, really, collected the old-fashioned way.
In the paperless world we now live in, we have probably tens of thousands of pages of additional public documents stored in hard drives.
The point is that accessing and reviewing public records is a part of our everyday life.
But you’d be mistaken if you thought Washington lawmakers’ overwhelming support of Senate Bill 6617 targeted journalists.
Lawmakers are stripping you of your power as a citizen, too.
The same public records tools we use to uncover fraud, government misconduct, and other sorts of questionable behavior are laws that are available to every Washington citizen.
Your elected leaders aren’t required to pick up the phone when you call. There’s no rule forcing them to meet with you at your request.
They don’t have to answer your questions, or even give you the time of day.
But, by law, they must provide you with certain public records under Washington’s Public Records Act.
This law is one way that any citizen can force their government to give them answers, and Washington’s state lawmakers have just voted to shut the public’s access to their records down.
One the KING 5 Investigator’s greatest sources of leads for stories is the public.
People call all the time with tips for potential stories. They want our help uncovering information that they feel they can’t get themselves.
Even if we can’t help them with a story, I often encourage them to take matters into their own hands.
I counsel them that they can use public records laws to get access to documents that may tell them what is going on behind the scenes.
The data can be raw and confusing, but citizens can find answers in those records if they are patient and persistent.
I have found that most Washington agencies are very helpful and committed to upholding the Public Records Act. When a response to my records request is incomplete it is usually because of confusion, not because someone is trying to hide something from KING 5.
Most Washington agencies want to help citizens see the records that belong to the people.
It’s a shame that our state lawmakers don’t feel the same way.
You can help protect your right to know by contacting Governor Jay Inslee and ask him to veto Senate Bill 6617.
KING 5 is urging you to contact Governor Inslee today:
Read more about the public records exemption bill here.