Our View: Bills trample on our right to know

June 18, 2013 

6W15BROWN1

Gov. Jerry Brown celebrates the budget deal with Democratic legislative leaders Darrell Steinberg, left, and John A. Pérez.

RANDY PENCH — rpench@sacbee.com

The current Legislature — and the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown — is shaping up to be the worst in recent memory for transparent government.

Friday, lawmakers approved a pair of budget trailer bills (Senate Bill 71 and Assembly Bill 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 on Friday — some had previous hearings but little chance for lawmakers to review the final language. Democrats clearly wanted to rubber-stamp a pair of bills that were likely to prove embarrassing once the public learned of their existence.

The supposed justification for the bills is to free the state treasury of the obligation to pay local governments for complying with open-records mandates. Under Proposition 1A of 2004, the state must either suspend state mandates or reimburse local governments for the costs of complying.

Local governments should be committed to transparency as a matter of course. But that doesn't free state lawmakers from their constitutional obligation to ensure that open governance has the force of law. Their actions Friday only bolster the impression that their commitment to transparency is mere lip service.

"It's not about saving money. It's all about curtailing an open, transparent government that can be held accountable," said Sen. Leland Yee, the only Democrat to vote against the legislation.

If these two bills become law, local governments and their representatives say they will continue to grant open-records requests. Perhaps many would, but if they didn't, Californians would have to sue to gain access to documents that should be public.

This is just the latest insult to the public. Last year, to avoid paying reimbursements, lawmakers and the governor suspended notice mandates for public meetings. This year, lawmakers considered imposing a $10-per-file fee on the public to look at court records. Fortunately, a conference committee killed that bill earlier this month.

Public pressure can again make a difference. Urge the governor to reject SB 71 and AB 76 by contacting him at: http://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php.

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