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Sunday, September 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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National journalism organization names Washington lawmakers as runners-up for ‘Black Hole’ award

Kento Azegami, left, and Jeanne Blackburn answer phones at the front desk at Gov. Jay Inslee’s office in Olympia, Wash., on Thursday, March 1, 2018. (Rachel La Corte / AP)
Kento Azegami, left, and Jeanne Blackburn answer phones at the front desk at Gov. Jay Inslee’s office in Olympia, Wash., on Thursday, March 1, 2018. (Rachel La Corte / AP)
Yakima Herald-Republic

Washington lawmakers’ attempt to exempt themselves from the state’s Public Records Act earned them a “dishonorable mention” by a national journalism organization.

The Society of Professional Journalists announced Friday that the Washington State Legislature was a runner-up for its annual “Black Hole Award,” which is awarded to a government agency or entity that demonstrates outright contempt for open government and the public’s right to know, according to a news release from the Indianapolis-based organization.

“Journalism and open government groups have been calling on state and federal government to be more open and transparent for years,” said Rebecca Baker, SPJ’s national president. “Yet lawmakers continue these ridiculous attempts to stymie journalists and ignore the First Amendment.”

Last month, Washington lawmakers rushed through Senate Bill 6617, which exempted the Legislature from the state’s open records act. The bill was a response to a Thurston County Superior Court judge’s ruling that lawmakers were subject to Public Records Act.

Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the bill, and legislators agreed to meet with open-government advocates and representatives of the news media to work out a compromise bill.

President Donald Trump and his administration were the award’s recipient this year, according to a news release issued by the Indianapolis-based organization. An Associated Press study found that Trump’s administration either denied or heavily censored nearly 80 percent of documents requested under the federal Freedom of Information Act, the release said.

Other runners-up for the award were the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office. SPJ cited Rauner’s refusal to respond to records requests in a timely manner, while the Missouri health department refused requests from a non-profit group of genealogists and historians for public data that it routinely sells commercially, the release said.

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