Monthly Archives: January 2019

Pedersen bill would open up legislative records

January 31st, 2019|

OLYMPIA – Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, introduced legislation today to subject the Legislature to the state Public Records Act and make a broad range of records available to the public and press.

“The people of our state value both open government and effective government.  This bill attempts to strike a balance between those important principles.” Pedersen said. “It’s time for the Legislature to recognize the ideals voters overwhelmingly approved in 1972.  We must enable Washingtonians to know who is influencing the lawmaking process without compromising the ability of their elected representatives to craft sound legislation.”

Tentatively scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 13, Senate Bill 5784 would subject the Legislature to the Public Records Act and its disclosure requirements.  Records that would become available include:

  • Legislators’ correspondence on legislative business to and from persons outside the Legislature – most significantly, with lobbyists — including email and text messages. Constituent communications would also be available with personal details redacted to protect constituent privacy.
  • Legislators’ calendars, including the names of individuals and organizations with whom legislators have met and the dates of the meetings.
  • Final decisions of investigations and disciplinary proceedings by the Facilities and Operations and Executive Rules committees of the Senate and House, respectively.

The bill would apply to records in the possession of the legislative branch whether created before or after the effective date of the act.

The bill would identify a narrowly-tailored set of exemptions from disclosure, including:

  • Communications with whistleblowers reporting allegations of improper governmental action; and
  • Preliminary and deliberative process records and internal caucus communications, such as drafts of bills and amendments, and legislators’ communications with staff or other legislators; legal, fiscal, and policy analyses of such draft proposals; ballots for internal caucus elections; budget offers and counteroffers between caucuses and chambers; and preliminary vote counts on bills and amendments.

Any decision not to release a record would be subject to review by the judicial branch, beginning in Thurston County Superior Court.

The issue of access to legislative records resurfaced in 2017 when a group of media organizations sued the Legislature. The Legislature had denied the media access to records that the Public Records Act requires state agencies to disclose on request. Since the Legislature is not a state agency under the executive branch but an independent branch of government, it has considered itself exempt from many provisions of the act. Last year, however, a Thurston County superior court judge ruled that although the Legislature is not an agency, individual legislators’ offices are agencies and thus subject to the act. Both sides appealed that decision and the case remains in litigation.

Last year, the Legislature attempted to clarify the law by passing SB 6617. The bill drew widespread criticism for the manner and speed with which it was passed, as well as its approach of creating a separate disclosure act for legislative records and self-policing about what records would be released.  After public outcry, Gov. Inslee vetoed the bill.

“We have listened and learned from the mistakes we made last year,” Pedersen said. “The Public Records Act has strengthened our state’s democratic standards and created a level of access to government strongly valued by Washingtonians. This legislation will strengthen the Public Records Act by substantially expanding access to legislative records. I look forward to a robust conversation with my colleagues about how we can continue to serve the public within the mandate that the public has given us for transparency in our work.”

Sen. Pedersen’s legislative update: 2019 session begins

January 22nd, 2019|

The 2019 legislative session began on January 14. This will be a “long” regular session, because we will pass two-year operating, capital, and transportation budgets for the state before our scheduled adjournment on Sunday, April 28.

After the 2019 election, Democrats hold larger majorities in the Senate (28-21) and House (57-41). Our team of Senate Democrats is strong, diverse, and determined to create smart policy and make targeted investments that will improve life for people in our communities.

Committees

I will continue to chair the Senate Law & Justice Committee, which has jurisdiction over civil and criminal law issues such as gun regulations, family law, the death penalty, and police use of deadly force. I will continue to serve on the Senate Ways & Means Committee, which writes the state’s operating and capital budgets and reviews every bill with a fiscal impact. I will also sit on the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and on the Senate Rules Committee, which decides which bills the full Senate will consider.

My bills

Senators have introduced more than 400 bills so far this year. I am the prime sponsor of seven of those bills. Here are two highlights:

Condo liability

The lack of affordable housing is one of the great challenges that our region faces. Experts tell us that an inadequate supply of condominiums has exacerbated this problem. Condos provide a critical rung on the housing ladder, both allowing people to purchase a first home and start building equity and also allowing empty-nesters an opportunity to leave a single-family home without going directly to assisted living.

Unfortunately, developers have built very few new condominiums in the Puget Sound region in the last 10 years. Part of the reason is the common perception that Washington law imposes substantial liability on developers and contractors for claimed construction defects. Over the summer and fall, I brought stakeholders together to negotiate a compromise to help revitalize this market. SB 5334 is the result of those negotiations. I am hopeful that its carefully crafted language will strike a better balance between protecting consumers who purchase defective homes and protecting developers and contractors from unfounded claims.

The bill will have its first public hearing next Monday, Jan. 28 in the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

Recomposition

It’s not often that a bill introduced in the Washington State Legislature makes news in New York and London, but SB 5001 has sparked interest from national and international media outlets in the past few weeks. The legislation would expand options in our state for disposing of human remains. It would allow both alkaline hydrolysis (reducing remains in a bath of water and a strong base) and recomposition (placing bodies in a vessel with organic material such as wood chips, accelerating the natural transition to nutrient-dense soil). Researchers from Washington State University have found the process to be safe and less expensive and better for the environment than burial or cremation.

Thinking about death and the disposition of our bodies is not pleasant, but every one of us will face this issue. Technology has transformed most aspects of our lives, but state law leaves us with the only two options – burial and cremation – people have used for thousands of years. It is time that Washington residents have other, better options.

Stay in touch

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. I feel honored to begin my 13th year serving you in Olympia and welcome your comments and questions about issues before the legislature.

Best wishes,
Jamie

Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District
Jamie.Pedersen@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7628 

Pedersen enters second full term in state Senate

January 15th, 2019|

OLYMPIA – Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) started his second full term in the Washington State Senate today.

Pedersen will continue to serve as chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee. He will also serve on the Senate Ways & Means and Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committees.

Pedersen was first appointed to the Senate in 2013 and elected in 2014. He was reelected in November to represent his constituents in the 43rd Legislative District for another four-year term.