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Should bill secrecy be unconstitutional?

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm with No Comments »
March 23, 2010 3:11 pm

The Washington Policy Center is pushing a constitutional amendment to require more transparency in the legislative process.

The free-market think tank’s proposal is a long shot to ever become part of the state constitution, because it would need approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate before it could even go to the voters. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown on Monday pooh-poohed claims by Jason Mercier of the policy center that the Senate is operating under a veil of secrecy.

Mercier has details on his blog. His amendment would require a public hearing before a vote on a bill, and the hearing would have to wait for 72 hours after the bill’s introduction. There’s also a 24-hour period of public access required before a bill’s final passage. A two-thirds vote could suspend the requirements. Title-only bills would be prohibited.

Brown said the Senate has operated transparently and with agreement from both parties on how quickly bills can be heard. She said title-only bills give lawmakers flexibility to make changes late in the legislative process, but still have to advance through many steps in that process once they’ve been changed.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any lack of ability for people to weigh in – in fact, tons of people are weighing in,” Brown said.

enate Majority Leader defends transparency record

Yesterday at her media availability, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown was asked about the Legislature’s use of title only bills and the lack of adequate public notice on committee agendas.

Repeating her previous statement that the Legislature is much more transparent today that we she first took office, Brown defended the Legislature’s use of title only bills and said she was unaware of the transparency problems described by reporters.

In fact, Brown said that I was wrong for indicating there was a problem.

Here is the video of her exchange with reporters:

(CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO)

Since Senator Brown said she was unaware of the transparency problems being described, someone may want to bring these examples to her attention:

While this may be considered normal and transparent by Senator Brown, it is not what passes as transparency for the public. This is why WPC has drafted model language for a constitutional amendment to help put the public back into the legislative process:

BE IT RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, IN LEGISLATIVE SESSION ASSEMBLED:

THAT, Transparency and public disclosure in the legislative process is vital to a representative democracy.  THAT, At the next general election to be held in this state the secretary of state shall submit to the qualified voters of the state for their approval and ratification, or rejection, a new section amending Article 2, an amendment to Article 2, section 19, and an amendment to Article 2, section 22 of the Constitution of the state of Washington to read as follows:

Article II, new section.  No bill shall be eligible for a public hearing until 72 hours after introduction.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action of any kind unless it has first been subject to a public hearing in the same session of consideration.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action on the floor of either house until 72 hours after it has been placed on the floor calendar.  This section may be suspended with two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house.

Article II, section 19. No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.  No bill shall be eligible for public hearing or legislative consideration of any kind unless the bill shall lay forth in full the changes to any act or sections of law. Title only bills shall be prohibited.

Article II, section 22. No bill shall be eligible for final passage in either house unless copies of the bill in the form to be passed shall have been made available to the members of that house and the public for at least twenty-four hours, unless two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house. No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the secretary of state shall cause notice of this constitutional amendment to be published at least four times during the four weeks next preceding the election in every legal newspaper in the state.

One way to test for sure if the public shares Senator Brown’s definition of transparency would be for the voters to have the opportunity to decide whether this type of constitutional transparency amendment is needed.

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