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Lawmakers Scramble to Undo Change to Public Records Act


Legislation passed as part of the state budget package would make complying with parts of the CPRA optional for local governments. A city, county, school district or special district could simply make an announcement at a public meeting that it was not going to comply with the act and then not have to assist the public in finding records, fufilling requests within ten days or making infromation availabe electronically.

On Wednesday, Democratic Assembly Speaker John Pérez announced his chamber would essentially amend the budget to remove that provision. He says the issue will be taken up Thursday morning.  "To be clear, this means that the California Public Records Act will remain intact without any changes as part of the budget – consistent with the Assembly’s original action," Speaker Pérez said in a statement. 

An Assembly committee had originally rejected the budget provision that contained the change to the CPRA. But a version of the provision was included in the final budget bill that came out of the joint conference committee. The Assembly ultimately approved that version. 

But Pérez’s proposed fix may not get much traction in the Senate. Democratic President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says the Senate won’t immediately act on that bill if it comes to them. Instead, Democratic Senator Mark Leno will introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would make complying with the entire act mandatory and require local governments to cover the cost. Governor Jerry Brown says he supports such an amendment.

And in the meantime, “If we get word from one public entity, one public entity, that they are not complying with the law, the Public Records Act, we will then pass that bill,” Steinberg says.

The Constitution currently requires the state to reimburse local governments for complying with the act, which costs California tens of millions of dollars. The CPRA change in the budget was designed to save the state that money.

Leno defended his original vote supporting the change, saying making those provisions optional didn’t affect the core principle of the act. “And that core principle is that public records are open to inspection during office hours of every local and state agency and that every person has a right to inspect every public record,” he says.

The minority party weighed in on the measure as well. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff says the budget trailer bill that included the CPRA provision should have been made public longer before it was voted on, to allow the public to figure out what's in the legislation and weigh in. “Because we believe Californians deserve to have their voices heard, Senate Republicans requested during budget negotiations that all budget trailer bills receive a public hearing in Committee and that they be in print for at least 72 hours,” Huff said in a statement.

Democrats point out the CPRA provision was part of the budget Governor Brown proposed in January and had been discussed in several committees before the final budget vote.

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