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The California Public Records Act requires state and local government agencies make documents not exempt from disclosure available to the public upon request so that residents can monitor how their government is functioning. Currently agencies are required to produce any electronic document considered a public record in whichever electronic format the document is maintained. A bill authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would create an open data standard for electronic documents making government more transparent and accountable.
Since we initially covered the open data bill, SB 1002 has been making its way through the California State Assembly. On Thursday the bill passed unanimously out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee sending the bill to the Assembly floor for a vote later this month.
SB 1002 would increase the public’s ability to access government records by requiring government agencies produce electronic public records in machine-readable and “user-friendly” formats such as Microsoft Excel and Word at the cost of the requester. Although the documents are already legally available to the public, much of the data remains unused because of the unsearchable format in which the information is presented to the public, making it difficult to hold officials accountable.
“Producing a 2,000 page electronic document that cannot be searched or sorted is inadequate and almost useless,” said Yee in a statement. “For too long, many government agencies – either by choice or inertia – have been living in the Stone Age when it comes to producing public documents. SB 1002 will finally bring public agencies into the 21st century.”
Opponents of the measure, California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities, argue that the new format requirements would be unnecessary, overly complicated, and costly. The Legislature’s fiscal analysis found that the bill could potentially cost tens of millions of dollars of general fund money across state and local agencies.
However, Yee’s chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, told the Bay Citizen that agencies would not incur any additional costs because the measure would only apply to agencies that already maintain their documents in electronic formats. The true cost won’t be known unless the legislation is passed.
Fortunately, there are already a few California cities unwilling to wait for the state to mandate open data format standards. Two weeks ago the City of Palo Alto launched its own open data initiative to publish machine-readable data sets with the goal of enhancing the community’s ability to monitor how and on what their government is working.
California Forward believes in removing barriers to public access to information and increasing transparency, but as Californians we must remember that it is our, the public’s, responsibility to use that information to hold our government accountable.