Legislative Secrecy

In Washington State, state lawmakers have quickly introduced and passed legislation, Senate Bill 6617, within 48 hours, I suppose to match Congressional Republicans in efforts to pass ill conceived laws.   No, it was an effort to evade a January court ruling that found the state legislature has been illegally withholding emails and other important documents from the public in violation of that state’s Public Records Act.  There has been a huge public backlash in Washington State to the passage of the bill, and many, including all of the state’s newspapers, are calling on Washington State Governor Jay Inslee to veto the bill.

Matthew Albright of the News Journal pointed out in retweeting the above on Twitter that Delaware lawmakers have exactly this exemption. And as he says “it is as bullshit as these editorials suggest it is.”  Here is a nice News Journal article on the application of and exemptions under Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act from back in 2016.

State Representative John Kowalko, long a champion of opening up access to emails and documents and removing the exemption for the General Assembly, is quoted in that article and indeed has a bill before the General Assembly right now (HB72) that would open up the University of Delaware and Delaware State to FIOA.   But it remained in committee all of last year, and I do not see much momentum to move it forward, nor any to remove the General Assembly’s exemption.  That is bullshit.

Senator Bryan Townsend did raise some valid points and objections in opening up access to all lawmaker’s emails:

I appreciate Townsend’s concerns here, and appreciate his engagement on this topic in a public forum.   As Albright mentioned, how about we exchange out a general exemption for the General Assembly with a narrowly tailored one that allows for privacy of constituent information and other areas of concern.   And I am sorry, but cost should not be a concern.   Open Government v. Cost, guess what? Open Government wins, everytime.

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

6 comments on “Legislative Secrecy

  1. More than a little bit sick of the famed “well then don’t vote for us” ploy, it’s a BS diversion that does an end run around Why don’t you do what’s right and needed?

  2. SussexWatcher

    On the cost issue: FOIA allows government to charge a requestor for both copying and reproduction costs as well as staff time spent processing and redacting. Legal review is the only time that can’t be charged. State agencies deal with this every day and it’s considered part of the mission. If they can do it so can Leg Hall. I like Townsend but he’s being intellectually dishonest or intentionally obtuse here.

    • cassandram

      Yes, I’ve made this argument too. If other agencies can do this, there is no real reason why legislators can’t. No doubt legislators are having more personal conversations on email with their constituents than other agencies might. But as you point out, many agencies are in the business of dealing with sensitive information from constituents (and in some cases from companies) and can manage. It is a bigger job for legislators, but still worth doing.

      • I was listening to the City of Newark Council debate last night on Renee Bensley’s recommendation that they move to city email addresses so FOIA can be competently performed (Renee is the City Secretary and is the FOIA liaison.) Council decided they don’t want any emails FOIA’d. They are going to direct lobbyist Rich Armitage to take this to the legislature for municipal exemptions to match the Assembly’s. They also didn’t appear to realize that their emails to constituents all are currently open to all under the FOIA law.

  3. SussexWatcher

    Yes. I dare say that the Department of Health and Social services deals with an exponentially greater volume of constituent issues that require confidential handling than a state legislator does.

  4. Part of the problem, and we saw this in the Chip Flowers v. Markell thing, other state or executive agencies will shield those emails by putting legislators on them. That is a HUGE concern!

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