Sen. Jeff Wilson proposes bill to amend state ‘Sunshine Committee’


Nineteenth Legislative District state Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, has prefiled legislation he says will help overhaul the state’s Sunshine Committee and streamline public disclosure requests.

In a news release Friday, Wilson said Senate Bill 5779 would combat the rising number of exemptions to the state’s public records law, though the bill does not address longstanding questions around legislative privilege.

If passed, the bill would require the Sunshine Committee to report to the “relevant committees” in the House and Senate and would amend its meeting schedule from “quarterly” to “four-times-a-year.” The bill would also provide additional funding for the Attorney General’s Office to provide staff support, which Wilson said would establish an “expectation” for staff support.

Wilson also plans to introduce legislation to create a pilot project where agencies review often requested items in advance and publish them online, thus reducing the need for a public records requests.

SB 5779 would not address the question of legislative privilege and whether lawmakers can conceal documents relating to internal deliberations. In 2019, the Washington state Supreme Court found that the Legislature unlawfully exempted themselves from Washington’s 1972 transparency law.

In November, a Thurston County Superior Court Judge ruled legislators and staff can withhold some records on discussions during the drafting of legislation.

“I can’t comment on the ‘legislative privilege’ lawsuit, because that is a matter of current litigation,” Wilson said. “But that’s just one facet of the public records issue. Public access to government records is important, and these proposals are a good place to start.”

The legislation comes after Legislature’s advisory committee on public records considered a proposal to disband the state’s Sunshine Committee altogether.

“The message came through loud and clear,” Wilson said in a statement. “Public records advocates are feeling ignored, and I can’t blame them. We keep talking in the Legislature about our support for open government and transparency, and then we turn around and find new excuses to keep government records out of public view. We need to strike a better balance. We can start by giving the Sunshine Committee a stronger platform and taking a more systematic approach to disclosure issues.”