Editorial: Public needs to speak out against bills to make open records optional

06/19/2013 12:00 AM

06/19/2013 9:18 AM

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

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

We agree with legislators that local governments should be committed to transparency as a matter of course. But that doesn't free 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 file lawsuits 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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