Gov. and Leg leaders retreat on public records act mess

by CalWatchdog Staff | June 21, 2013 4:34 pm

June 21, 2013

By Katy Grimes


SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers have reversed course on the sneaky attempt to reduce access to public records, as mandated by the Public Records Act. The act provides Californians the ability to obtain documents about state and local government actions.

Instead, according to the Los Angeles Times[2], Legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown are looking at a constitutional amendment that would force local governments to pay for a state mandate that always has been picked up by the state. The result will be even more pressure on local budgets. So much for all of the feel-good political rhetoric about support for local governments.

Here’s what happened. On June 14,  AB 76 [3] was passed by both houses of the Legislature and sent to the governor. It would gut the state Public Records Act at the local level. The last-minute trailer bill language would remove local governments’ current requirements to respond within 10 days to public records act requests, or to assist those requesting documents.

But opposition to the bill was immense from outraged members of the public and the media.

So on June 20, the Assembly passed SB 71[4], which is the same as AB 76, but with the the language threatening the Records Act removed.

Blame Brown

Blame was cast on Brown, who put the requirement to suspend the California Public Records Act[5] in his January budget proposal. On the Assembly floor Thursday in a session I attended, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, said passing AB 76 was merely to save money. He said, “The governor, wanting to save money, put in the provision.”

Then Blumenfield, clearly on the defense, added a knock on the press itself for not noticing what was in the budget. “Six months ago, there was not a peep out of the press or anyone in public,” he said.

Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, pointed out that her bill, ACA 4, which would require all bills to be in print for 72 hours before being voted on, would have prevented the mess Democratic lawmakers found themselves in over attempting to strip the Public Records Act.

As I wrote in May, Democrats killed her bill[6] even before it could be heard in the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 6[7], which is led by Blumenfield.

Blumenfield did not back down. “Those arguments have nothing to do with this bill,” he said in response to Olsen. But ACA 4 would have assured that AB 76 had 72 hours to be scrutinized carefully; instead, it was subjected to a quick vote with almost no scrutiny of what was in it, leading to the ongoing crisis.

“The governor’s proposal was in place six months ago,” Blumenfield said again, even though both the Assembly and Senate slipped the provision into budget trailer bills at the eleventh hour. Nothing in a budget proposal by any governor is automatic, but must be written up into a bill by the Legislature.

Additionally, under increasing pressure this week, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, released a joint statement Thursday admitting, “[T]here needs to be both an immediate fix to ensure local entities comply with the California Public Records Act and a long term solution so the California Public Records Act is not considered a reimbursable mandate.”

Public Records Act provisions

Assemblywoman Olsen called her legislative colleagues “hypocritical” for  reversing course on gutting the Public Records Act, while still opposing her ACA 4 requiring bills to be in print for 72 hours before a vote.

“I find it interesting the same folks who didn’t want to release their office budgets two years ago are falling all over themselves now to get SB 71 passed,” Olsen said.

Olsen was referring to a big dust-up in August 2011, when  the Assembly refused to comply[8] with the state-required performance audit of Assembly administrative offices.

I wrote back then,[9] “The Standing Rules of the Assembly call for an annual performance audit of the Assembly. But the Assembly had never actually complied with this rule,” prior to August 2011.

A political about-face

Both Blumenfield and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, maintained that the trailer bill measures were meant to save the state millions of dollars in reimbursement to local governments for fulfilling Public Records requests. And both of the lawmakers claimed the budget bills would not make records unavailable.

However, every local government Public Records Act request I’ve made already comes with a hefty charge by the agency for reproducing the documents.

Brown, Steinberg and Perez announced a plan to introduce a constitutional amendment to go before voters next June, making changes to the California Public Records Act.

After a closed-door meeting of the Senate Democratic Caucus, a joint statement was released by Steinberg and Perez, which said that, as the Senate constitutional amendment progresses, the Assembly and Senate will work together “to give voters the chance to make clear that good government shouldn’t come with an extra price tag.”

Steinberg and Perez said, “We agree there needs to be both an immediate fix to ensure local entities comply with the California Public Records Act [10]and a long-term solution so the California Public Records Act is not considered a reimbursable mandate.”

If the change ends up becoming law, then local governments will have pick up the tab for what until now has been a state mandate paid for out of state general-fund revenues. This would be on top of all the other mandates the state imposes on local governments, including the mandated pension spiking a dozen years ago and the recent shifting of state prisoners into local jails.

This also is a reason why, as Dave Roberts reported on[11], the Legislature is trying to make it easier for local governments to raise parcel taxes, which then would pay for shifting the cost of honest government from the state to the local levels.

  1. [Image]:
  2. according to the Los Angeles Times:,0,5513095.story?track=rss
  3. AB 76 :
  4. SB 71:
  5. California Public Records Act:
  6. killed her bill:
  7. Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 6:
  8. Assembly refused to comply:
  9. wrote back then,:
  10. California Public Records Act :
  11. reported on

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