Will CA Gov. Brown Veto Budget Bill with Rider Gutting FOI Law?

June 19, 2013

UPDATE: At 4:02 pm PDT the California Assembly seems poised to walk back its Public Records Act changes. Thomas Peele and Mike Rosenberg report for the San Jose Mercury News: "Under intense pressure from the state's media organizations and government watchdogs, California's legislative leaders on Wednesday backed down from proposed changes to a key transparency law that would have restricted the public's access to government records." Some observers still voiced skepticism that the CPRA was out of danger.

California Gov. Jerry Brown faces a decision on whether to veto a bill gutting the state's Public Records Act. That's the law that allows news media and citizens to hold state and local government accountable for stealing or wasting the taxpayers' money. The last-minute sneak attack on open government was crafted and pushed through by Brown's own party — the Democrats who hold a supermajority in the legislature.

The bill would allow local governments to ignore the major requirements of the Public Records Law which force them to respond to freedom-of-information requests and justify any denial of requests. State agencies would still have to comply. The legislature tucked the "trailer" provisions into the budget bill which it passed June 14, 2013.

The ostensible motive for the bill is to relieve local governments of the funding burden for a state-imposed mandate, although evidence that savings would be gained is sketchy. But it would repeal a tool that Los Angeles Times journalists used in a probe resulting in charges against officials of the California city of Bell for allegedly looting the city's treasury.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association, the First Amendment Coalition, and the Pacific Media Workers Guild (a journalists' union) have all urged Brown to veto the bill. Editorial pages around the state are doing the same, but many pundits think Brown will sign it.

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