Tag Archives: public records

The Quick Scandal of the Public Records Act

Legislation was swiftly killed by Democratic leaders after attention focused on the plan

by Brian Leubitz

Sometimes there are scandals that rage like wildfires so quickly that there is no other way for them to just burn up all the fuel.  Today, it seems the Public Records Act brouhaha was something along those lines. First, some background

California’s Public Records Act, revered by citizen activists and journalists as a fundamental right to open government, came under assault last week in a cost-cutting move as legislators approved a new state budget. But now, with Gov. Jerry Brown poised to sign the budget, lawmakers are split over a campaign to restore funding to save the transparency law.

Long story short, the Public Records Act was a state mandate for local government action. That meant that the state had to pay those expenses. In a cost-cutting move, the leaders and the Governor opted to basically eliminate the state mandate to cut funding to the local governments for open records. Most municipalities would simply then be forced to pay for their own open records.

But, in a time of still tight budgets, it wasn’t clear that all municipalities would provide adequate funding, so good government advocates through up a big stink today.  All of the state’s major newspapers editorialized against the measure. And it worked. Sort of.

The Assembly reversed course, with the Speaker saying that he was planning on reversing the trailer bill responsible for the fracas. However, the Senate leaders, thought otherwise. Senators Steinberg and Leno proposed a constitutional amendment that would let the voters decide who pays for the open records. (See the video to the right…whenever it is marked public)

I’m not sure this is ultimately the best decision to be made by the voters, but the option is there. Relatively uninformed voters will ultimately decide who pays for the open records, but it punts the issue until next June.

Open records are critical to vibrant democracy. Who pays for them doesn’t really matter, but with the state reaching for additional funds everywhere it can, you can see local government skepticism. And many municipalities just won’t prioritize open records. A final outcome will be likely be decided on this tomorrow.