Lawmakers love the state’s Public Records Act — except when it applies to them

Republicans are right to resist a pair of union-backed bills that would erode government transparency. But these same lawmakers undermine their passionate arguments for open government when they won’t abide by those standards themselves.

This is a convoluted tale in which Republicans appear to have the high ground.

But by making their point using an agency document obtained through a public-records request, GOP lawmakers are illustrating exactly why the state’s Public Records Act must also apply to them and other legislators — something they continue to fight against.

Right now, Republican leaders are fuming that Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration has pushed for legislation that, as it turns out, was specifically requested by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The union is a major Democratic campaign contributor; the political arm of SEIU 775 alone contributed more than $736,000 to Washington state campaigns in 2016, including $42,000 to a committee supporting Inslee’s re-election bid.

A 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Harris v. Quinn, found that certain workers who provide in-home health-care services — i.e., those represented by SEIU 775 — cannot be forced to pay union dues.

Now, Inslee and other Democratic lawmakers want to place those quasi-governmental workers under the oversight of a new private entity, a move that could once again require caregivers to pay fees to the union.

A 2014 memo from Inslee’s budget office indicates SEIU leaders directly asked state officials for this change. Without that document, which lawmakers said came to light through a public records request, “we wouldn’t know” Inslee’s administration was operating at the union’s behest, said state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.

“When you dig deeper, you realize this isn’t really (about) contracting out at all — it really is a sweetheart deal to one particular union,” said state Sen. Joe Fain,…

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