Speaking of government transparency…

Mar 5, 2018

Government transparency has been the issue du jour this legislative session. 

As pointed out by The Seattle Times, Senate Democrats wasted no time using their new state government trifecta to “swiftly and quietly push” bills “rolling back the state’s Public Disclosure Act.”

There was SB 6079, exempting the birth dates of state employees from the public-records law. There was also SB 6353, removing birth dates and months in Washington’s voter-registration files from public disclosure.  The most controversial of all was SB 6177, the wildly unpopular bill lawmakers passed exempting themselves from the state’s open records laws.

After an uproar fueled by angry newspaper editorials (13 of which appeared on the front page) and nearly 20,000 mad-as-hornet constituents who flooded Governor Inslee’s office with calls and emails, Gov. Inslee vetoed SB 6617, rightly declaring:

“The public’s right to government information is one we hold dearly in Washington.  Transparency is a cornerstone of a democratic government.”

The media and the citizen outrage over SB 6617 was certainly warranted.  Under no circumstance should our elected lawmakers use the legislative process to insulate themselves from the open government law that was approved by 72% of voters in 1972.

But there is more to transparent government than just public records and open meetings.  There is also transparency in motive. 

The bill SB 6199 is a perfect example.  In the literal sense, SB 6199 has absolutely nothing to do with open records or public disclosure.  The bill directs the state agency (Department of Social and Health Services ) that currently manages the individual providers who provide in home care services to the disabled, sick, and elderly, to contract out to a private company that management.  SB 6199 specifies the private company would become the legal employer of those providers. 

DSHS and Democrat lawmakers say outsourcing to private companies the management of individual providers is simply an effort to provide relief to an agency that is over burdened.  It is worth mentioning that providing this relief will cost taxpayers an extra $26 million every biennium.

The reality is SB 6199 has little to do with providing administrative relief to DSHS and everything to do with lawmakers pandering to what The Seattle Times calls “powerful special-interest groups.”  And by that, The Times means public employee unions.

This is where the concept of transparency in motive comes in.  It just so happens that as the employees of a private company, individual providers would no longer be protected by the right guaranteed them in the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court Harris v Quinn decision to reject paying the union for representation they do not want.

Making individual providers private-sector employees means the 4,000 home caregivers who exercised their right under Harris v Quinn to not pay the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) would now be forced to, adding more than $2.5 million to that union’s coffers every year.  

Lest you chalk this $2.5 million side effect up to coincidence, thanks to public records we know SB 6199 came about as a direct result of a request from SEIU to Governor Inslee.  A confidential memo to Governor Inslee reveals SEIU asked the Governor and Legislature to try to work around the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  SEIU offered several options on ways the state could circumvent Harris v. Quinn, and one of those options was what is now SB 6199. 

Considering SEIU is one of the state’s biggest political contributors to Democrats, it isn’t hard to connect the dots.  

SB 6199 certainly does not best serve the state’s home care providers, who would lose their right to decide whether to pay SEIU to represent them; nor does it best serve taxpayers, who would pay $26 million more every budget cycle.  The only winners are SEIU, which would rake in an extra $2.5 million every year, and the Democrats whose election campaigns would benefit from that union's extra revenue.

Governor Inslee says “transparency is a cornerstone of a democratic government.”  And it is painfully transparent that SB 6199 is nothing more than political payback to the unions who helped give Democrats control of the state Senate, House of Representatives and Governor’s office.

If Governor Inslee really believes transparency is such an important part of a democratic government, he will veto SB 6199.