California Law Keeps Too Many Secrets

California's public records laws are famously weak and riddled with exemptions that shield important information from the public.

But Capitol Weekly has uncovered an example of one of the worst loopholes in the law. Under an exemption for documents related to health care, the cost and provisions of a major prison health care contract can be withheld under the law -- at least according to the state -- because of an exemption on health care.

I'm no lawyer (though, like any patriotic American, I enjoy making legal judgments wihout a license). But this seems like an overly expansive interpretation of the law. And it's galling because prison and health costs are major drivers of state spending -- and contributors to the budget crisis. But neither the public nor legislators can see this crucial contract.

California badly needs a sunshine law that makes all government documents public records. If the government wants to keep a secret, it should have to go to a third-party to get a formal ruling that the document is worth keeping secret. The burden of proving a document is secret should be on the government, not the citizen. The default position should be openness.

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