A&A: Can I use the Sunshine Act to access to state-controlled information?

Q: Under California Proposition 59 (The Sunshine Act) I would like to formally petition the state of California for state-controlled information. Can I ask you to please advise: What state agency has this form and can send it to me?

A: Proposition 59 amended the California Constitution to add greater access to government records and meetings.  You can find more information regarding Proposition 59 on the FAC website here: CA Proposition 59. However, if you seek records from a specific state agency, I suggest making a request in accordance with the California Public Records Act.

Under the California Public Records Act (“PRA”), public records — which include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics,” Gov’t Code section 6252(e) — are presumed to be open to the public and must be disclosed unless a specific provision of the Act or other law exempts them from disclosure.  “Writings” include “every…means of recording upon any tangible thing any form of communication or representation, including…sounds…and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored.” Gov’t Code section 6252(g).

If you make a written request to the state agency, it must determine whether the records are disclosable within 10 days of your request, and “promptly notify” you, in writing, if it will make the records available, or specifically state the reasons the records are exempt from disclosure.  Gov’t Code § 6253(c).  “When the agency dispatches the determination, and if the agency determines that the request seeks disclosable public records, the agency shall state the estimated date and time when the records will be made available.”  Gov’t Code § 6253(c).  Additionally, the agency has the duty to assist you in making a focused and effective request that reasonably describes identifiable records.  Gov’t Code § 6253.1.  You can learn more about the PRA, and find sample letters here: Public Records Act

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.