By State Sen. Bob Hasegawa, State Rep. Mia Gregerson, State Rep. Cindy Ryu, and State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos
The Legislature received sharp criticism from mainstream reporters and this paper’s editorial section about a law we hastily passed regarding disclosure of public records. The expedited — and deeply flawed — process did not give lawmakers ample time to articulate the reasons for the policy to you, the public. While criticism of the process is well-deserved, we disagree that the policy itself is nefarious.
We thank the Northwest Asian Weekly for giving us the opportunity to share why.
To start, we do not defend the absence of process in passing SB 6617. Although the decision was not ours to make, in hindsight, we could have — and should have — been more vocal in expressing our skepticism and misgivings about the lack of public deliberation in order to slow the bill down and to provide time for public input.
We appreciate the groundswell of public opinion against our action, which led the governor to veto SB 6617 with the support of the Legislature. This allowed us to start over and — more important — to plan for better public participation in the process of crafting this policy in the future.
Many in the press characterized the passage of SB 6617 as enacting greater secrecy on legislative records. In fact, we believed we were voting to establish greater transparency of such records.
The bill would have opened up lawmakers’ legislative calendars, correspondence with lobbyists, and final reports on misconduct investigations. The bill also would have made available internal accounting and financial records, including personnel leave, travel, and payroll records of legislators and staff.
Yet, one important goal of SB 6617 has been overlooked in the extensive coverage of this legislation: the Legislature’s desire to protect the privacy of our constituents, both prospectively and retrospectively. As elected officials, we are in frequent contact with individuals who seek our assistance in obtaining services or our advocacy in achieving action. In these cases, we often collect information such as addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, and other potentially sensitive and personal data.
In seeking to prevent the disclosure of the location of a domestic violence victim, or the address of an undocumented individual, or the employment records of an injured worker, the bill established common-sense parameters for the disclosure of legislative public records beginning on July 1, 2018.
This has prompted some in the media to imply that legislators are hiding information from the public.
The truth is we were simply trying to protect your privacy.
In the past, we recorded all manner of constituent information in an effort to serve our constituents.
In the future, as the dialogue about public records disclosure continues, legislators will wish to clarify what information our offices should collect and how to retain this data. This, too, is in an effort to serve our constituents and their best interests.
The intent of SB 6617 was to increase legislative transparency, balancing the desire for more accountability from elected officials while also protecting sensitive constituent information. But, the lack of a transparent public process in enacting the bill overshadowed this legislative intent and was completely unacceptable. We acknowledge this and are sincerely sorry for our rush to pass the measure.
Now that SB 6617 is out of the picture, we all have an opportunity to share our opinions on the right way to balance public disclosure with your right to privacy. We look forward to having that dialogue with you.