EDITORIAL: PUBLIC RECORDS ACT GUTTED IN STATE BUDGET—ASK GOVERNOR TO RESTORE YOUR RIGHTS

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Update June 20, 2013 4 p.m. -- The Sacramento Bee reports that due to mounting public pressure, the Governor will abandon efforts to weaken the Public Records Act.  The Bee also reports that Democrats plan to push for a state Constitutional amendment to assure public access to government documents and require local agencies to pay the costs, thwarting efforts by local governments that have sought reimbursement from the state for costs of complying with the decades-old law.

 

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

By Miriam Raftery, Editor, East County Magazine

June 20, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – A budget now on the Governor’s desk would gut the California Public Records Act, eliminating your right to access  public records.  Donna Frye, president of Californians Aware (CalAware), warns, “This is where we are today, facing a Public Records Act wipe-out unless Governor Brown vetoes that portion of the budget trailer bills and restores all the provisions currently in place.”

CalAware, a watchdog group dedicated to protecting open government, urges  citizens to call the Governor today at (916)445-2841 and ask the following:

“I urge Governor Brown to veto section 4 of Senate Bill 71 and Assembly bill 76 (specifically section 6252.8 to the Government Code) to restore effectiveness to the Public Records Act.”

The budget trailers would eliminate requirements for local government agencies to respond to Public Records Act requests within 10 days and to give a legal reason of records requests are denied.  It would also eliminate the requirement to turn over electronic records, putting us back to the era when voluminous paper records were cost prohibitive to obtain in many cases.

Frye observes, “Information is power and what you don’t know can hurt you.”

The California Newspaper Publishers Association general counsel Jim Ewert agrees. “Agencies have not demonstrated a tremendous willingness to provide information, especially on their own,” he said, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Senator Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) has written to the Governor to ask that the Public Records Act be restored. "This bill will severely undermine the public’s trust in their government," he wrote. "The media and the public need efficient access to government records in order to hold elected officials accountable. In allowing public agencies to opt-out of important CPRA mandates, the bill limits transparency of public documents and encourages secrecy in government."

If the budget is passed as is, officials could decide not to comply with guidelines for helping the public navigate complex records systems by simply making an announce announcement at public meetings.

The Governor’s Department of Fin acne spokesman H.D. Palmer has defended the proposal, claiming the action “does not send a message to local governments to ignore public records [requests.”

He’s wrong, simply put.  As a journalist for 30 years, I’ve had many occasions when agencies dragged their feet on records requests until the California Public Records Act was cited and notice of violations pointed out. Then miraculously such records were forthcoming.

East County Magazine’s public records requests have frequently exposed problems and led to change.  For example, a records request found that a local water district had passed a rate hike in violation of open government law; the rate hike was later rescinded.   Another records request revealed that a school district superintendent destroyed a report from a law firm on whether the district was violating the California Voting Rights Act. 

These are records that the press and public should have the right to access.  We join with CalAware and other concerned watchdog groups in urging our readers to call the Governor’s office and ask that Governor Brown veto provisions of the Budget in order to restore the California Public Records Act.

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, “Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people.”