Assembly Speaker John Perez has announced that the Assembly will vote Thursday on a new version of California's budget bill that will maintain the state's open records law after facing intense public criticism of formerly proposed provisions.
Last week, California Legislature approved Assembly Bill 76 and Senate Bill 71 as part of the 2013-14 budget plan that would threaten the state’s 45-year-old Public Records Act.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that the changes could save California tens of millions of dollars.
The proposed bills would in essence make it optional for government agencies to provide the public with information as previously required through the CPRA.
The bills would eliminate the rule stating that officials are mandated to respond to information requests within 10 days, along with the requirement that legal justification be provided if documents are not released.
In addition, information available electronically could be given in any form, including in print.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration predicted that the bills would have little effect on current public access to records.
Many California newspapers disagreed and published editorials firing back at the Legislature’s proposal.
The new version of the bill is pending before Brown, and if approved by the Senate, would allow Brown to choose between the two versions.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Brown issued the following statement: “We all agree that Californians have a right to know and should continue to have prompt access to public records and I support enshrining these protections in California's constitution.”
Here are some of the earlier criticisms voiced by media organizations:
“Had these amendments to the Public Records Act been in effect for the last several years, here are the kinds of things you would not know: That members of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors regularly – sometimes three or four times a week – had lunch together and you paid for it. No business was discussed, of course.” – Visalia Times-Delta
“It’s not the responsible public officials who will balk at providing records. It’s the bad ones – the ones who don’t want us to know what’s really going on. The state is giving them license to operate in secret.” – Mercury News
“It’s particularly troubling, at a time when we are finding out what a huge volume of information our government agencies collect and maintain about us citizens, to have our state representatives deliberately reducing what we citizens can find out about the actions of our government ‘servants’.” – Los Angeles Daily News
“…giving state and local governments the ability to simply ignore public records requests would be plenty expensive, too. And wrong. It might even encourage the next Robert Rizzo to start passing out criminally exorbitant salaries to his friends on the city council. Or allow agency bureaucrats to drop thousands of taxpayer dollars on drinks and lap dances at strip clubs…” – The Bakersfield Californian