Editorial: Hands off open government laws | June 26, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - June 26, 2013

Editorial: Hands off open government laws

Residents of California, you nearly got screwed. The latest attempt by Sacramento to weaken the public's access to their government has been defeated, thanks to quick-acting open-government advocates who last week succeeded in getting lawmakers to kill a provision in a bill, soon to be signed into law, that would have made compliance with a key component of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) optional for local governments.

AB 76 would have suspended the CPRA provision that requires local governments — cities, school districts and other public agencies — to respond to public records requests within 10 days and to provide certain types of assistance to those seeking the records. The language that would have done so was stripped from the bill last week after a groundswell of public opinion forced the legislators to back down. We're grateful for the victory, but seriously troubled that a move to curtail the public's right to know what government is doing was attempted at all.

The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown say that the provision's suspension — crammed into an already wide-ranging bill and therefore landing largely under the radar — was intended to save money. The state reimburses local government agencies for some of the costs associated with complying with CPRA requests. There was no intent, the lawmakers claim, to sabotage the public's right to review nonexempt records — a right enshrined in the 1968-enacted CPRA, which is considered a model law for government transparency.

The argument is identical to another made last year when the Legislature suspended an important provision of the state's open meeting law — the Brown Act. Dumping the state's obligation to reimburse public agencies for posting agendas before meetings — thereby making such postings voluntary rather than mandatory — would save the state $96 million over three years, the lawmakers claimed. They had to backpedal on that one, too, under pressure from government watchdogs.

Whether the moves were intended primarily to save money or as underhanded attempts to thwart public scrutiny of government business may never be fully understood. But the public outcry heard once government watchdogs waved the red flag about the latest maneuver should give lawmakers a clear message: Don't try to eviscerate laws that have been instrumental not only in keeping the public informed but also in helping to expose government corruption at every level.

The silver lining of this sad debacle is the public discussion that is now taking place. An effort by some lawmakers and open government advocates to require the sunshining of all bills at least 72 hours before the Legislature votes on them is growing in strength. This would avoid the last-minute deviousness that has led to some bad laws being enacted without proper scrutiny by the public — and even by legislators pressured to vote before having the time to fully understand what they were voting on.

According to CalWatchdog, Republican Sen. Mark Wyland of Escondido has pushed, unsuccessfully so far, to require a 21-day mandatory review period for all budget bills after being required to vote for a budget "literally hot off a printing press." These ideas are worth serious consideration in the name of good, and open, government.


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Posted by Political Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 26, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Kudos to Tom Gibboney. He is spot on in this editorial. Dave Price wrote a similar editorial on Monday in the Daily Post. Rich Gordon (D AD24) voted for this monstrosity. Gordon does what he is told by the Party leaders in Sacramento without question. So where is our representation in our Assembly District when the Democratic Party leadership is calling all the shots?

George Yang, Gordon's Challenger, in 2012 would have never gone along with such a preposterous rider. The people who live in AD 24 deserve better representation.

Rich Gordon is also the genius who forced the Bulb-out at the intersection of Alameda de las Pulgas and Avy causing people to detour off the main Alameda artery on to Alschul where children play. Rich, Thank you for having such concern for children's safety. Perhaps you will one day learn that main arteries are for carrying traffic and that restricting them diverts traffic into neighborhoods.

Gordon also supports One Bay Area Plan, Agenda 21, and ABAG. According to USA today. the newspaper with the largest circulation in the United States, the Bay area is the third densest metropolitan area in the United States only behind New York and Los Angeles. So the Democratic party leadership, along with an obsequious Rich Gordon wants to force more housing density on the Bay area.

All 20 cities and towns in San Mateo County should quit ABAG and send Sacramento two messages:
1) We are full up on the Peninsula, and
2) We are fed up with Sacramento.

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Posted by must be true
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Political Observer, everything you say must be true. We all benefit from your hours of fact checking and unbiassed coverage. Thank you for having the courage to speak out.

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Posted by the great newspaper USA Toady
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 26, 2013 at 2:39 pm

the great 'bulb-out' of 2003?

Well, if USA Today says it, it must be true! Especially since it's "the newspaper with the largest circulation in the United States"

Well, ummm....

Except for those newspapers with larger circulation. Web Link

Anyone ever actually subscribe to USA Today, at home? I always got it in my room when traveling, or picked up a discarded section in a coffee shop....

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Posted by Hands
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 27, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Actually, Agenda 21, a voluntary plan of action regarding sustainable development, that sounds pretty good to me. Note that it is voluntary, not mandated. It is up to each country to decide how, and whether, it will manage its development during this time of declining natural resources, human-accelerated climate change, problems with food and water allocation, and a host of other problems that probably should be dealt with in a coordinated global manner, making sure that the burden falls equally across the planet.