Recently, against the staunch opposition of California newspapers, the California Association of Licensed Investigators, California League of Latin American Citizens, National League of Latin American Citizens, Bring Hollywood Home Foundation, Miss Revolutionaries and the San Fernando Valley/Northeast Los Angeles Chapter of the National Organization for Women, the legislature removed from the budget bill a provision which would have charged the public $10.00 just to search court records indexes and raised the fees for copies to $1.00/page and the certification fees to astronomical levels. But another provision of the budget bill is even more dangerous to the public and to the small “d” democratic nature of government itself:
Mercury News editorial: Public Records Act must be restored
Posted: 06/18/2013 12:49:07 PM PDT
Updated: 06/19/2013 06:52:05 AM PDT
Without the state Public Records Act, we would never have known about the Santa Clara County supervisor who used public funds to feed his gambling habit or the sheriff who issued concealed weapons permits to campaign contributors and out-of-county residents.
We would be ignorant of broken bolts on the Bay Bridge, the cover-up of Moraga teachers sexually abusing students, a BART train operator who collected salary and benefits totaling $193,407, the former BART general manager who received $420,000 the year after she was fired or the Port of Oakland executives who spent $4,500 one night at a Texas strip club.
As the state Legislature declared in the preamble to the records law, “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”
In this photo taken Tuesday, June 11, 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the budget compromise reached with Democratic leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento left, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, right, during a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif. Lawmakers are expected to vote, approve the compromise budget plan reached that largely mirrors the governor’s proposal for a fiscally restrained spending plan that assumes conservative revenue projections.
But the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown are gutting the law.
As a result, local government officials will only have to relinquish documents when they get around to it. If they deny access, they will no longer need to provide a written reason. If they have easily searchable electronic data, they can instead print it out and hide alarming numbers in reams of paper.
If state lawmakers care one iota about transparency — or if Californians hammer them for what they’ve done — they will reverse this appalling action.
Legislators know all about burying information. They made these changes to the state Public Records Act last week at the last minute by slipping language into one of 15 state budget bills now sitting on the governor’s desk. While legislators and Brown touted on-time passage of the spending plan, they didn’t mention they’d also made it far more difficult for taxpayers to determine how local governments use their money.
Lawmakers hide behind the notion that this change will save the state money, since it has to reimburse local governments for costs of complying with mandates it has imposed since 1975. That includes Public Records Act amendments requiring local governments to provide written responses to document requests within 10 days and to provide the records in electronic format if they’re available that way.
Rather than pay the costs of compliance, lawmakers ended the mandates. The governor first proposed suspending the requirements; the Legislature permanently killed them. They all point to estimates from the Legislative Analyst’s Office that this would save the state tens of millions of dollars. We usually admire the work of the LAO, but in this case it offered no justification for the number, which appears to be a wild guess.
More important, it doesn’t account for billions saved because residents — and, yes, the media — now have the ability to examine records and act as watchdogs.
The LAO said local officials should decide whether to comply with disclosure rules. Ask residents of Bell how well that would work. The idea is absurd. It’s not responsible public officials who will balk at providing records. It’s the bad ones — the ones who don’t want us to know what’s really going on. The state is giving them license to operate in secret.
It is unconscionable.
“Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government.” — Jeremy Bentham
“Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show it can bear discussion and publicity.” — Lord Acton
“Children love secret club houses. They love secrecy even when there’s no need for secrecy.” — Donna Tartt
“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” — Patrick Henry
“The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.” — Niels Bohr
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.” — John F. Kennedy
Don’t let this happen. Call, write and email you legislators and demand that these provisions be taken out of the budget bill.