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L.A. Now Live: Open-government advocates criticize budget bill

June 19, 2013
  • Gov. Jerry Brown reports on the budget compromise with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, left, and Assembly Speaker John Perez.
Gov. Jerry Brown reports on the budget compromise with Senate President… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

First Amendment advocates are accusing Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers of slipping a stealth attack on government transparency into the massive budget bills that passed last week.

The measure, approved by the Legislature on Friday and expected to be signed by the governor next week, would allow local governments to "opt out" of some provisions of the state law that gives the public open access to government records.

Supporters defend the changes as simple cost-saving measures that will have little impact.

Join Times reporter Anthony York at 9 a.m. as he discusses the state’s transparency laws and what it could mean for government accountability in California.

Under current law, local government agencies have 10 days to respond to a request for government documents from a member of the public, and must be required to make those records available in electronic formats. Under the change, local governments would be allowed to opt out of those requirements with a simple voice vote.

Defenders of legislation, including state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), insist that most governments will choose to abide by the old rules. Those assurances failed to satisfy the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., which criticized the move as a blow to the public’s right to obtain government records.

The Brown administration and Legislature have been discussing the changes since the beginning of the year in an attempt to save the state "tens of millions" of dollars annually, according to a rough estimate by the Legislative Analyst's Office. Because those portions of the open record laws are considered a state mandate on local governments, Sacramento now is forced to reimburse the costs.

There are also questions about whether the governor has the authority to line-item veto the changes, since they were in a separate budget implementation bill and not the actual state budget. Brown could veto the entire bill, but that would impact many state agencies and programs.   

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