Open Government

WPC's Center for Government Reform's mission is to partner with stakeholders and citizens to work toward a government focused on its core functions while improving its transparency, accountability, performance, and effectiveness for taxpayers.

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Ghost bills and mystery hearings hurt legislative process

March 22, 2010 in In the News
Bellevue Reporter
Bellevue Reporter
Monday, March 22, 2010

UPDATED: Public need not attend

March 19, 2010 in Blog

Keeping an eye on the Legislature has become increasingly difficult this session as legislative transparency has fallen way down on some lawmakers' priority list.

Here is just the latest example.

Around 6 p.m. last night the Senate Ways and Means Committee announced it would hold executive session today on at least five bills. The short notice of the hearing wasn't the only problem with this announcement. No time or location was provided; instead the notice said TBA.

As of 11 a.m. this morning the web agenda still say TBA on time and location of the executive session. Thanks to a tip, though, I know the meeting will take place in the Senate Rules room. In fact, I am currently sitting in the room watching Senate Ways and Means staff set the room up for the meeting.

When I asked what time the meeting would start I was told as soon as the Senate concluded floor action. This means there will likely be little to no public notice of when the meeting will start.

Another concern, TVW cameras are not available in the Senate Rules room which means unless you are sitting in the room you will not be able to see what debate occurs on the bills being adopted.

Surprisingly, if you know how to maneuver the Legislature's electronic bill book you will be able to find this agenda for the meeting.

Note that it says the meeting will start at 12 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room 4 (a room covered by TVW cameras). Also note the big bold letters at the top of the agenda: "Broadcast LIVE on TVW." 

Unfortunately for citizens, this agenda is not accurate. The meeting time is still TBA and will occur in the TVW-camera-free Senate Rules room.

UPDATE (4:25 p.m.)

As of 4:25 p.m. the web agenda still says TBA but the Ways and Means hearing will begin any moment. It appears no public notice beyond the brief mention on the Senate floor a few moments ago will be issued.

UPDATE (4:50 p.m.)

The hearing has just concluded. The web agenda still says the meeting time is TBA. The most interesting exchange was the rejection of an amendment to eliminate the state printer offered to EHB 2969. Unfortunately the amendment is not currently available online so I can't link to it. Those voting against the amendment said there wasn't en!
ough notice or time to consider the impact.

Legislative Roll Call Report

March 19, 2010 in In the News
The Daily News (Longview)
The Daily News (Longview)
Friday, March 19, 2010

Legislative Games: Public Hearing before Introduction

March 18, 2010 in Blog

Yesterday we highlighted the "Transparency Games" that continue to be played in the state legislature.  The post covered a public hearing held by the Senate Ways & Means Committee on SB 6889, which at the time of the hearing hadn't been officially introduced by the Senate. 

At the conclusion of our post we wrote:

"It will be interesting to see how the bill history will read for SB 6889.  Will they acknowledge that the public hearing was held before the bill was introduced?"

Well, after several phone calls to Senate staff this afternoon here is the result:


Now the legislative record accurately reflects that a bill was heard before being introduced.

UPDATED: 911 tax introduced for voice over internet lines

March 18, 2010 in Blog

Today Representative Morris introduced HB 3216: Concerning enhanced 911 emergency communications services.

According to the bill:

"A state enhanced 911 excise tax is imposed on all interconnected voice over internet protocol service lines in the state. The amount of tax may not exceed twenty-five cents per month for each interconnected voice over internet protocol service line whose place of primary use is located in the state. The amount of tax must be uniform for each line and must be levied on no more than the number of voice over internet protocol service lines on an account that are capable of simultaneous unrestricted outward calling to the public switched telephone network. The tax imposed under this subse!
ction must be remitted to the department by interconnected voice over internet protocol service companies on a tax return provided by the department. Tax proceeds must be deposited by the treasurer in the enhanced 911 account created in RCW 38.52.540."

HB 3216 appears to be a companion bill to SB 6846.

UPDATE (3/19):

The House has suspended the rules and placed HB 3216 directly on the floor bypassing the committee hearing process.

"Mar 18 Read first time, rules suspended, and placed on second reading calendar. "

The I-960 fiscal impact statement for SB 6846 estimates the tax increase would collect ju!
st under $79 million by 2019.

Senate committee defends adoption of title only bill

March 17, 2010 in Blog

Today the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a work session on SB 6853. This bill was introduced on February 9 as title only and has the distinction of being introduced, heard in public hearing, and adopted by the committee all on the same day despite no details being available.

Generally when a work session is held a committee will invite stakeholders to make presentations about the policy being discussed. Unlike a public hearing, however, the general public is not allowed to comment.

Not only was no public testimony taken, but the entire work session consisted of the members talking amongst themselves. In particular, the discussion focused on a defense of why the committee heard and adopted a title only bill.

Here is video of the work session.

First Senate Rule 45 (requires five day public notice) was suspended to allow the public hearing to proceed since the agenda was only made available the evening before the hearing.

Then staff explained that the bill being discussed was adopted as title only but now had a striker amendment with actual details.

Then the prime sponsor of SB 6853 Senator Rockefeller explained why he introduced the bill as title only.

Committee Chair Prentice also offered this defense of the committee's decision to adopt a title only bill.

The hastily called work session appeared to be a response to these editorials attacking the Legislature's use of title only bills:

  • A bad example of legislative 'transparency', Olympian
    the waning days of the regular legislative session, Senate Majority
    Leader Lisa Brown, a Democrat from Spokane, claimed the Legislature is
    much more transparent than it was when she entered the Legislature. 
    Brown is wrong . . ."
  • Sunshine and Clouds in Olympia, Kitsap Sun
    bad news is that public access to information and hearings about
    legislation has been ... challenging. There’s been a flurry of
    'title-only' bills introduced and set for hearings, sometimes on short
    notice, and with no timely public information on their content. Members
    of the public deserve better than that — and if they want to get it,
    they’d better say so this fall to those who seek to represent them in
    the Legislature."
  • State government clings to double standard, News Tribune
    it any wonder that city and county officials clamor for relief from
    open meetings and records laws when they see their counterparts in
    state government behave as they do? State officials profess a belief in
    public disclosure. They’re just not sure it always applies to them.
    Lawmakers in particular hold themselves apart from the state’s sunshine
    laws. They caucus in secret for any reason and insist that their
    correspondence is somehow constitutionally protected from public
    dissemination. They also apparently reserve the right to skip public
    process in the interests of expediency."
  • Public input? Who cares?, Everett Herald
    increasing audacity, key state legislators are taking control from the
    people and seizing it for themselves. Amid the difficult process of
    closing a $2.8 billion budget shortfall, they’ve skirted, waived or
    ignored the public’s right to know what they’re up to and comment on

It's unfortunate the committee chose to cut the public out of this discussion. The now available details of the proposal are worthy of a meaningful public debate.

In a bit of irony, later in the public hearing an amendment offered to HB 2617 (Boards and Commissions) that would consolidate the state's various ethnic commissions was tabled due to lack of public notice.

In addition, one of the bills heard at today's public hearing was S-5541.1, a draft bill that won't be officially introduced until tomorrow.