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Originally published Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 4:46 PM

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Bills to limit disclosure would not benefit public

The Seattle Times editorial board opposes two bills in the Legislature that would further limit public disclosure.

KING County Metro will arrange for actual security in the downtown Seattle bus tunnel, instead of the ghost of it. This advance in rider safety was made possible only because the agency had to disclose a shocking video taken by surveillance cameras.

Two weeks before the attack in the tunnel, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, introduced Senate Bill 6431. Her original bill exempted all transit-agency videos from public disclosure. The bill said it aimed to prevent these videos from being used "to track or monitor an individual's use of public transportation ... "

The sponsors of the bill weren't thinking about the incident in the tunnel, which hadn't happened yet, or the benefit from making such an incident public. They were thinking about a problem other than public safety — a lesser problem and mostly an imaginary one.

Legislators have since amended the bill to allow the news media to have such videos. That is an improvement. Still, a citizen could not have the video — and there are some reasons why a citizen might want it.

This reminds us of another bill afloat in Olympia: Substitute House Bill 1317, sponsored by Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. It would exempt from public disclosure the photos of police officers or anyone else in the criminal-justice agencies. It would also hide their month and year of birth.

The murder of four officers in Lakewood has left the public with a deep sympathy for police. We share that sympathy. But it does not mean legislators should pass every piece of legislation the police want.

There are times when a newspaper or TV station needs to be able to identify arrestees as police officers and track them through statewide arrest records — not only for a news story, but for the public's long-term benefit.

Sometimes a citizen needs a personnel-file photo to identify an officer in a case of alleged wrongful behavior.

This state's public-disclosure law was a good law. It is still fairly good. But there has been an itch to whittle it down. The courts have done it and the Legislature has done it.

These two bills would whittle it down some more — and not to the public's benefit.

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