Michigan shows need for Washington legislative transparency reforms

December 7, 2012

When I saw this headline today out of Michigan I didn't think the article would become the poster child for legislative transparency reforms, but that's exactly what the story demonstrates: Right-to-work bills pass in Lansing

According to the article, the Michigan House and Senate adopted a bill to make the state the nation's 24th Right to Work. While this is an important development and a debate worth having, the terms of that "debate" are what caught my attention:

  • The House and Senate each passed bills on the same day they were introduced 
  • There were no committee hearings and the bills were instead moved directly to the floor for votes 
  • The vote occurred in a lame duck session before majorities are reduced
  • A nominal appropriation was attached to deny ability for voter referendum

For those that have followed our work, our frustration with Washington's Legislature engaging in similar transparency abuses has grown with each passing legislative session.

This is why we continue to recommend the Legislature adopt real transparency protections to involve the public in the public debate and end the abuse of the Emergency Clause which denies the people their constitutional right of referendum.

Retiring State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Attorney General Rob McKenna have been among the strongest supporters of our transparency recommendations. Hopefully incoming State Auditor Troy Kelley and Attorney General Bob Ferguson will also advocate for these reforms.

After the uproar over the 9th order drama during the regular session earlier this year we were hopeful that SB 5419 would be considered during the Special Session but that wasn't the case. Maybe next year.

Here is a variation of SB 5419 reflecting our recommendations. These changes would provide waiting periods for legislation, subject the legislature to the OPMA like every other government entity (except the courts) and ban title only bills:

Increasing legislative transparency

AN ACT Relating to providing mandatory notice and waiting periods before legislative action; banning title only bills; subjecting the legislature to the open public meetings act; amending RCW 42.30.020; and adding new sections to chapter 44.04 RCW.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. A new section is added to chapter 44.04 RCW to read as follows:

(1) All bills introduced, and any proposed substitute, striking amendment, or conference committee report thereon, must be made publicly available to the members of the Legislature and the public at least seventy-two hours before such a bill is eligible for a public hearing, is eligible for legislative action, or is eligible to be voted on by the senate or the house of representatives.

(2) At least seventy-two hours notice shall be given of all public hearings held by any legislative committee. Such notice shall contain the date, time and place of such hearing together with the title and number of each bill, or identification of the subject matter, to be considered at such hearing.

(3) No bill shall be eligible for legislative action of any kind unless it has first been subject to a public hearing in the same session of consideration. 

(4) No bill shall be eligible for legislative action on the floor of either the senate or house of representatives until forty-eight hours after it has been placed on the floor calendar.

(5) No bill shall be eligible for final passage in either house of the Legislature unless copies of the bill, in the final form to be passed, have been made available to the members of that house of the Legislature and the public for at least twenty-four hours.

(6) This section may be suspended by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to the house of the Legislature in which it is pending, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending this section must be recorded in the journal of the respective house of the Legislature.

NEW SECTION. Sec 2. A new section is added to chapter 44.04 RCW to read as follows:

No bill shall be eligible for public hearing or legislative consideration of any kind unless the bill shall lay forth in full the changes to any act or sections of law. Title only bills shall be prohibited.

Sec. 3. RCW 42.30.020 is amended to read as follows:

As used in this chapter unless the context indicates otherwise:

(1) "Public agency" means:

(a) Any state board, commission, committee, department, educational institution, or other state agency which is created by or pursuant to statute, other than courts and the legislature;

(b) Any county, city, school district, special purpose district, or other municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state of Washington;

(c) Any subagency of a public agency which is created by or pursuant to statute, ordinance, or other legislative act, including but not limited to planning commissions, library or park boards, commissions, and agencies;

(d) Any policy group whose membership includes representatives of publicly owned utilities formed by or pursuant to the laws of this state when meeting together as or on behalf of participants who have contracted for the output of generating plants being planned or built by an operating agency.

(2) "Governing body" means the multimember board, commission, committee, council, or other policy or rule-making body of a public agency, or any committee thereof when the committee acts on behalf of the governing body, conducts hearings, or takes testimony or public comment.

(3) "Action" means the transaction of the official business of a public agency by a governing body including but not limited to receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations, and final actions. "Final action" means a collective positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a governing body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance.

(4) "Meeting" means meetings at which action is taken.