Assembly, in a reversal, votes to preserve public records law

by Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

The state Assembly voted to maintain a mandate that local governments provide public documents upon request, but some lawmakers criticized the move as embarrassing and political theater, arguing it is unlikely to be approved by the Senate.

At the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, the Assembly and Senate had previously approved legislation making local compliance with portions of the state Public Records Act optional so that the state would no longer be required to reimburse agencies for tens of millions of dollars in costs to comply.

That drew protests from open-government activists and editorial pages throughout the state. “A lot of folks are waking up on this issue and there is a hue and cry about it, and we want to be responsive to that,” said Assemblyman Robert Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), the Budget Committee chairman.

So the Assembly on Thursday tried to reverse that proposal by voting 52-25 to approve a new bill that would continue to mandate compliance. “Public access to government is critical to our democracy,” said Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael).

However, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said Wednesday that he would put the Assembly bill on hold until there was evidence that a local agency was not complying with the open records law.

Instead, the Senate will pursue putting a constitutional amendment on the June 2014 ballot to require local agencies to abide by the open records law and pay for their costs.

“The bill we are voting on today will not become law, so the vote we are taking today more or less becomes political theater,’ said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare.

But the Assembly has some leverage of its own.

Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) noted that the Senate’s constitutional amendment requires approval by his chamber, which he said would carefully consider it. “I absolutely believe the Senate will take this up,” he said of SB 71, approved by the Assembly on Thursday.

Several Republicans, including Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, said that Democrats have only themselves to blame for rushing through hundreds of pages of budget and trailer bills without enough consideration.

“This is an embarrassment that we have to stand here today and redo the work we just did,” Donnelly said.

Republicans voted heavily against the bill, saying there were provisions in the bill that would hurt business and reduce record-keeping requirements on domestic violence incidents.