Can We See Your Records, Mr. Speaker?

NYPD Officers Shot

Assembly Speaker John Perez drew headlines this week over his request for public records from Vernon, the tiny Los Angeles city he's seeking to eliminate.

The response by Vernon, a place dogged by reports of corruption and its own clannishness, was ridiculous: it demanded $200,000 as a deposit for producing the records. Such a demand is legally questionable, and all too common as a way to avoid compliance with public records laws. As a reporter, many a public official responded to my legitimate records requests by demanding all kinds of money for "search" or "copy" costs.

But there's another side of the story that reports on Perez's request missed. And it's this: any legislator rising to high dungeon about public records is a bit of a hypocrite. That's because the legislature has gone to great lengths to exempt itself from the public records laws that govern much of the rest of state government, as well as California local governments.

Most strikingly, Prop 59, the 2004 ballot measure that has been the strongest boost to public records recently, specifically exempted the legislature from its provisions. Perhaps that's because it was the legislature that put it on the ballot. So I'm glad to see Speaker Perez pursuing public records so fervently. I'd only ask that he apply some of that energy to himself and his institution.

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