(Photo Credit: Andreas Pagel)
We praised the Legislature last week for releasing its budget and trailer bills days before the vote because it provided citizens with a chance to see the bills before they were voted on. We give credit where credit is due, but we also feel a responsibility to point out digressions when it’s warranted.
Tucked within the 1,600 page budget bill was a provision designed to allow local agencies to opt out of complying with pieces of the California Public Records Act, a total about-face in the quest for open government and transparency. But while transparency took a hit, it’s not down for the count.
After half a week of criticism from government watchdogs including California Forward, the Legislature making a wholesale reversal on the revision. Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) announced today that while the trailer bill will move forward, it will do so without the proposed changes to the Act.
“To be clear, this means that the California Public Records Act will remain intact without any changes as part of the budget – consistent with the Assembly’s original action,” Perez said. Additionally, the Senate will propose a constitutional amendment that will require local governments to pay for public records requests themselves.
Senate will intro constitutional amendment requiring local govts to pay for responding to public records requests.
— Laura Olson (@lauraolson) June 19, 2013
The changes proposed for the Public Records Act – downgrading legal requirements to “best practices” – would have been not only sweeping but dramatic, according to Jim Ewert of the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association. “Not only does the suspension allow an agency to not provide a reason for denying a request, it presumably allows an agency to not respond to a request at all,” Ewert told California Forward before the Legislature’s reversal. “All of this was done in the cover of darkness and without a single policy committee hearing.”
Credit for the 180 can be given to the many advocates of transparency in the state that raised the alarm about the meaning behind the changes to the Public Records Act, but kudos can also go to the Legislature for listening to and considering the arguments of the Californians that elected them. “Transparency is the cornerstone of good governance,” California Forward’s Caroline Bruister said. “The Public Records Act should be protected so citizens have access to information about how decisions are made.”
Not only do we believe this, we dedicate our time and effort to seeing this goal of transparency in government carried out to the fullest. It’s for situations like the one discussed that we consolidated our work into our very own Transparency Portal, a landing page tracking the gains and losses of open government within our state. Californians believe in transparency, and our eyes will remain peeled for any attempted clouding of the lens of government in the future.