Legislative public notice for bill hearings starts to slip

February 26, 2013

Up to this week the Legislature had been doing a decent job of adhering to its rules that require a five-day public notice before a bill is heard in a hearing.

In fact, earlier this year I was quoted in a Senate press release expressing my encouragement:

The transparency goals outlined by the Senate majority are a step in the right direction. Though it is still early in the session, should the Senate hold firm to the five-day public notice requirement, provide access to substitute and draft bills in advance of public hearings, avoid votes on ‘title-only’ bills and open up more committees to public access, it will be a positive development. We are still hopeful that meaningful legislative transparency reforms will be enacted into law but are encouraged to see the Senate’s transparency goals on display today.

Unfortunately the discipline to the five-day public notice requirement had its first major breakdown in both the House and Senate this week.

In the Senate yesterday a public hearing was held on a pension reform bill (SB 5856) the same day the proposal was officially introduced. The hearing on that proposal began with the waiving of Senate Rule 45 which requires five-day public notice:

Aside from the transparency breakdown, it was disappointing to see this happen on a policy level. Having written about pension reform and the need to consider defined contribution pensions, it would have been nice to have adequate time to prepare comments and testify on the bill except there wasn't enough notice provided to rearrange my schedule to attend.

The Senate isn't alone in reducing the five-day public notice requirement.

According to the Chief Clerk of the House, Speaker Frank Chopp has authorized waiving the five-day public notice requirement (House Rule 24) on two bills introduced today that will be heard for a public hearing on Thursday. The proposed changes to state tax policy and the constitution to be heard without the five-day notice requirement are HB 1967 and HJR 4210.

These are examples of why on the first day of session we delivered to lawmakers a letter signed by a broad based coalition of good government, media and business groups that encouraged the Legislature to adopt the Washington Policy Center's proposed legislative transparency reforms that would:

  • Provide mandatory public notice and waiting periods before legislative action;

  • Ban title only bills; and

  • Subject the legislature to the same transparency requirements that are placed on local governments.

Since that letter was delivered the Association of Washington State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce have added their support.

Unfortunately our transparency proposal was not introduced this session.

Senate Rule 45
1. At least five days notice shall be given of all public hearings held by any committee other than the rules 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. By a majority vote of the committee members present at any committee meeting such notice may be dispensed with. The reason for such action shall be set forth in a written statement preserved in the records of the meeting.

House Rule 24
(A) NOTICE OF COMMITTEE MEETING. The chief clerk shall make public the time, place and subjects to be discussed at committee meetings. All public hearings held by committees shall be scheduled at least five (5) days in advance and shall be given adequate publicity: PROVIDED, That when less than eight (8) days remain for action on a bill, the Speaker may authorize a reduction of the five-day notice period when required by the circumstances, including but not limited to the time remaining for action on the bill, the nature of the subject, and the number of prior hearings on the subject.