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Wed., Jan. 26, 2011

Editorial: Bill creates prudence on hasty money measures

If members of the Washington Legislature are looking for ways to temper public cynicism about the political system, an opportunity lies within reach.

Based on the premise that seeing is believing, Senate Bill 5419 is designed to prevent bulky, comprehensive spending and taxing measures from being passed before anyone – sometimes including many representatives and senators – has had a chance to see what’s in them.

This has been a concern for years, but solutions have been elusive. So it’s probably optimistic to expect much from SB 5419, which is sponsored by eight Republicans and one notoriously maverick Democrat in a body where Democrats hold a 27-22 majority.

Still, an utterly sensible concept like this deserves a strong enough show of support to remind Olympia that the voters want to be engaged participants in the lawmaking process.

They want to be informed in advance, not surprised when it’s too late to speak out. And they want the reassurance of knowing that the lawmakers who are empowered to vote in their names have had at least the opportunity to examine the provisions firsthand.

Generally, as a tense legislative session grinds down to its final days and hours, the issue that’s waiting final action is the one that has been foremost on the public’s and members’ minds from the opening gavel – the appropriations and revenue measures that define what services state government will deliver and how they’ll be funded. Too often those pocketbook decisions come to a quick vote before more than a handful of people have had time to digest or even see them.

SB 5419 would subject those such bills to a 24-hour waiting period between the time they’re available for public inspection and the time they’re acted on in either the Senate or House, to include committee hearings. It’s a modest and reasonable proposal. It even allows for rare instances when a genuinely urgent situation arises that demands an exception, which can be permitted with a two-thirds vote.

With trust and credibility in conspicuously short supply in this political climate, responsible elected officials should be opening all the doors and windows they can.

In the interest of good government, the Legislature needs to make a bold, bipartisan commitment to transparency and back it up with action.

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