Update on open-government legislative proposals in Sacramento

AB 1978
AB 1978
, a Bill that would have closed public access to ‘basemap’ data for Geographic Information Systems (GIS), put forth by Assemblymember Jose Solorio, was dropped after opposition from the GIS/GeoData and freedom of information communities.

GIS “basemap” data is used to create the base layer for all local computer mapping. The bill sought to exempt from the Public Records Act, which requires all government data to be available to the public, “metadata, listings of metadata and assembled model data”.

CFAC has filed suit to force Santa Clara County to make available its county basemap as a public record, subject only to payment of modest copying fees. CFAC won in Superior Court and the case is now on appeal. AB 1978 would have effectively overturned that pro-disclosure ruling.

The GIS community was rallied by Bruce Joffe, a GIS expert and consultant to CFAC in the Santa Clara case, to push Assemblymember Solorio to drop the bill. Following publication of an open letter in Directions Magazine, the technologically-saavy GIS community quickly spread the word through geo-data blogs and on such sites as GIS Café, GeoSpatial Solutons, GeoPlace and POB Magazine.

The bill didn’t make it out of committee and Solorio, in a statement from his office, said he “decided not to push it forward”.

AB 1855
AB 1855
began as a bill about police interrogation tactics, but, after it lost that focus, Assemblymember Anthony Portantino considered adding two amendments that would have made police officer names and salaries private information.

The State Supreme Court ruled last year that salaries and officer names (though not personal contact info) are public information and subject to public disclosure laws. The AB 1855 amendments would have reversed these rulings.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association, CFAC and other organizations opposed the bill. Assemblymember Portantino ultimately decided to pull the Amendments.

SB 1370
In 2006, LAUSD newspaper advisor, Darryl Adams, allowed a student to write an editorial criticizing the school’s random search policy and subsequently found himself removed from his position as newspaper advisor, basketball coach and even basketball game announcer. Stories like this lead State Senator Leland Yee to propose SB 1370.

SB 1370 prohibits retaliation towards adults who are protecting a student’s right to exercise freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

Even now, in this edition of CFAC’s Flash Newsletter, is a story about a Vacaville newspaper advisor who allowed a student to write an opinion piece about a controversy at the high school. For this decision, the advisor claioms he lost his advisory role.

SB 1370, which would combat both these instances of abuse, passed out of the State Senate in a vote of 35-2 and is now awaiting approval from the Assembly

AB 2296
After a spate of violent attacks by animal-rights activists, including an assault on a researcher’s husband at her home outside University of California-Santa Cruz and a Molotov cocktail thrown through the home of a University of California-Los Angeles researcher, Assemblymember Gene Mullin proposed AB 2296, sponsored by the University of California, which would keep private all names of animal researchers.

However, the bill was construed broadly to include any “animal enterprise employees” and to permit the non-disclosure of “any information relating to animal research activities”. It is currently under close scrutiny by freedom of information groups, including CFAC.

The bill was approved by the original Committee and was passed on to the Appropriations Committee for further review. After CFAC and other organizations’ advocacy, the bill will be rewritten to take into account the public disclosure considerations, while still allowing for the protection of the researchers.

SB 1696
The Senate also recently passed SB 1696, revising the Public Records Act to prohibit government agencies from making contractual agreements with third parties that, as part of the agreement, keep information about the agreement confidential.

SB 1696 was approved by the State Senate in a vote of 33-1 and is awaiting a vote in the Assembly.

–Kelly Dunleavy, CFAC staff