Pressure makes Capitol backtrack on gutting California Public Records Act

From the Los Angeles Times:

(June 23, 2013) — Gov. Brown and the Legislature reverse course on allowing local governments the option of blocking access to public records — thanks to outrage from media and citizens.

SACRAMENTO —  You don't normally see politicians who are firmly planted in their positions suddenly do acrobatic 180-degree turns.

But last week was very abnormal in California's Capitol. Odds are what happened won't be repeated for a long while.


In order to guarantee the citizens' access to government information, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the California Public Records Act in 1968. Over the years it was expanded. And local governments were allowed to bill the state for performing certain chores mandated by the act.

Gov. Jerry Brown didn't like paying up. And who can blame him? Local governments should foot the tab themselves for carrying out their duties.

In his January budget proposal, Brown sought to avoid dishing out state reimbursements to local governments by eliminating the mandate and making compliance with key parts of the records act optional. On June 14, both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a version of Brown's plan as a little-noticed piece of a larger budget bill.

Then the public bombardment began, stunning Capitol pols.


In reversal, leaders vow to protect California's Public Records Act

From Voice of OC:

(June 20 and June 24, 2013) — Under heavy pressure from news organizations and open-government advocates, Gov. Jerry Brown and leaders of the state Senate reversed themselves Thursday and abandoned an effort that would have gutted the California Public Records Act.

A joint statement issued by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, announced that Senate leaders had changed their minds and would support a plan proposed by Assembly Democratic leaders to prevent cuts to the 45-year-old open records law.


The new plan, according to Terry Francke, general counsel to the open-government organization Californians Aware, will keep the Public Records Act intact and ask voters next June to approve a change in the state constitution to require local governments to pay the costs for providing their public records.

Californians Aware is a member of NFOIC.–eds.


An early response:

From California First Amendment Coalition:

(June 17, 2013) — The California Public Records Act (CPRA) is gravely threatened by stealth amendments revealed for the first time yesterday as part of a "trailer bill" to the new state budget. Instead of the relatively minor cost-saving tweaks proposed earlier by the Governor and approved in legislative committees, the actual amending language will gut key transparency safeguards in California's most important open-government law.

I am writing to ask you to call on Governor Brown to veto the relevant portions of the budget trailer bill that is headed to his desk as early as tomorrow. We invite you to do this by email to the Governor office, using the form provided in this email.


Tell Governor Brown to veto the provisions of SB 71 that would effect these changes in existing law. The link below opens an email form with an email message for the Governor and his staff (which we will print out and deliver). You can use the email message content provided or delete it and write an email in your own words.

The rest and a link to the bill

First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC.–eds.


More coverage

Budget bill threatens public records access in California: (June 19, 2013) Last-minute language introduced into a trailer bill to California’s state budget would seriously threaten government transparency.

Public records law 'eviscerated' by budget bill: (June 18, 2013) Cities and counties could dramatically restrict the information they release to the public without explanation under a bill approved by the state Legislature and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Cities, counties could opt out of rules for Calif. open records law under bill sent to Brown: (June 17, 2013) SACRAMENTO, California — Cities and counties could dramatically restrict the information they release to the public without explanation under a bill approved by the state Legislature and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown as part of the state budget package.

California public records law 'eviscerated' in budget bill, critics charge: (June 14, 2013) Legislation tucked into the state budget bill would "eviscerate" the public's ability to track tax dollars and hold local officials accountable, open government advocates charged Friday.

Transparency in California Should Not Be Optional: (June 14, 2013) The California legislature is close to suspending important provisions of the state’s public records act, giving local agencies the authority to unilaterally ignore procedures designed to ensure government transparency.