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Yes to Open Public Meetings

September 26, 2004

California has several "sunshine" laws that require government meetings be open, documents be available for viewing and agendas be public. All very well, until state and local agencies and elected officials spot a loophole or a new, urgent need for secrecy.

One example: A Times analysis published in 2002 revealed a pattern of secrecy at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, finding that it conducted more than 90% of its official business during the previous year without any public comment. Throughout the state, citizen groups and reporters often face costly fights for access to the deliberations of a water board or local government.

Proposition 59 would amend the Constitution to demand that instead of making citizens pry open the doors, government and state agencies must persuade a judge of a reason to close them.

The measure still allows confidentiality for medical data, law enforcement information and some personnel records. But in any dispute over sunshine statutes, judges and other officials would have to interpret the law to grant the widest possible access.

The Legislature voted unanimously to put this amendment before voters, and the only argument raised against it has been that it doesn't go far enough. It's easy to recommend a "yes" vote on Proposition 59.

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