Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brown expected to sign legislation weakening open records law

A legislation that makes it optional for cities, counties, school districts and other government agencies to comply with key provisions of the California Public Records Act is expected to be signed into law today (June 19) by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The act now requires officials to respond to a request for records from a member of the public within 10 days and to make the documents available electronically. The change, which Brown requested as a cost-cutting measure, would allow the officials to skip both requirements with a voice vote once a year.

Such a vote would enable government agencies to reject requests for information without providing any legal reason, and those agencies would no longer be required to help citizens identify existing information they may want.

The LA Times says that because the legislation was attached to the budget bill, Brown would have to reject the entire bill if he were to block the open-records restrictions, and his administration has indicated that he intends to sign it.

Brown's proposal, by making compliance with those provisions optional, would gut key pieces of the law, opponents said.

But according to the Times, the measure sailed though both houses of the Legislature during Friday's budget debate with just one Democrat, Leland Yee of San Francisco, voting against it.

Yee, who is running for secretary of state next year, said the measure was "just the latest indication this nation is moving backward in terms of being open and transparent." He said many of his fellow Democrats share the blame for that trend.

The Mercury News said in an editorial
    Without the state Public Records Act, we would never have known about the Santa Clara County supervisor who used public funds to feed his gambling habit or the sheriff who issued concealed weapons permits to campaign contributors and out-of-county residents. 
    We would be ignorant of broken bolts on the Bay Bridge, the cover-up of Moraga teachers sexually abusing students, a BART train operator who collected salary and benefits totaling $193,407, the former BART general manager who received $420,000 the year after she was fired or the Port of Oakland executives who spent $4,500 one night at a Texas strip club.
    As the state Legislature declared in the preamble to the records law, "access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."
    Yet the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown are gutting the law.
The Fresno Bee said in an editorial:
    The unbridled arrogance of government is on full display, here in California and across our great land. In the name of security and the war on terror, the federal government is prying ever deeper into the lives of law-abiding Americans, eroding civil liberties and owning up to the deeds only after a whistle-blower calls them to the public's attention.
    Meanwhile, in California, a Legislature controlled by a Democrat supermajority and in concert with Gov. Jerry Brown, wants citizens to know as little as possible about the workings of local government.
    On Friday, lawmakers approved a pair of budget trailer bills (SB 71 and AB 76) that would free local governments of the obligation to comply with certain aspects of the California Public Records Act. The bills zipped through the Legislature with little or no committee review. Lawmakers clearly wanted to rubber stamp potentially embarrassing legislation under cover from prying eyes.

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