2007 Open Government Legislation

By Nick Rahaim

The 2007 Legislative session looks promising for open government advocates. Some bills seek to resurrect legislation that was defeated or vetoed in the last Legislative session. Other bills seek to overturn recent judicial rulings that are hostile to access rights. New bills would also streamline the California Public Records Act and to shed light on two of California’s more secretive government institutions: The UC Regents and police departments.

AB 1648, one of the three open government bills introduced by Mark Leno (D-SF), would effectively overrule the California Supreme Court’s decision in Copley Press v. San Diego, which denied the public access to disciplinary records of police officers. The bill would require police departments to disclose substantiated complaints and charges, basic information on disciplinary action, as well as the name and badge number of police officers involved.

SB 1019, a similar bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), would also make police disciplinary records public. Romero’s bill is supported by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton. Both bills face significant opposition from politically well-connected and powerful police unions.

AB 1393 and AB 1668 are additional open-government bills introduced by Leno. AB 1393 is similar to a bill (AB 2927) that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed in 2006. The new bill would require state agencies to create a Public Information Center on their websites where the public could request records electronically. The bill would also assign to the Attorney General’s office primary responsibility for enforcement of the CPRA. This aspect of the legislation may draw objections from Governor Schwarzenegger, whose veto message for the 2006 bill focused on the role of the Attorney General.

AB 1668 supplements AB 1393. It would require that state agencies provide all records in a digital format. This would allow CPRA requests made though the Public Information Centers—–established though passage of AB 1393—–to be expedited.

Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 190, which would require committees and sub-committees of the California State University Board of Trustees and the University of California Regents to use an open forum when discussing appointments, employment, and salary and benefit increases. The UC Regents and the CSU Trustees have been criticized for denying public oversight of decisions concerning compensation packages for top university administrators. Last year Yee introduced a similar bill, AB 775, which died in the Senate Appropriations Committee after it faced opposition from Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland).

SB 690, introduced by Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), deals with access to criminal histories of persons arrested by police. An opinion by former Attorney General Bill Lockyer, announced late last year, effectively blocks release of such information. SB 690 would make it available again, but only to persons who request it for a “journalistic or scholarly purpose.”

SB 343, introduced by Senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod, (D-Montclair) would amend the Brown Act to require legislative bodies to make available staff analyses of meeting agenda items at the same time as the agenda is released. Under current law these analyses are available, but only by request under the CPRA.