California voters will be asked whether the public’s right to review government documents is important enough to be protected by the state constitution after yesterday’s successful vote on the amendment in the Legislature.
Should the constitutional amendment pass in the June 2014 primary election, local government agencies will be required by law to adhere to the California Public Records Act (PRA) and Brown Act but the state will no longer reimburse the associated costs of compliance.
Earlier this year, the California Legislature and Governor Brown came under fire for furthering legislation that would weaken the public’s access to government records. At the time, the proposed budget severed the state’s financial commitment to reimburse local government agencies for public records requests.
As the state cannot constitutionally impose mandates upon local government without reimbursing the cost, the proposed budgetary action would effectively lift the legal requirement for local government agencies to comply with the PRA.
In response to the outpouring of criticism, Senator Mark Leno and Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg co-authored SCA 3, a constitutional amendment that would enshrine the Public Records Act in the California State Constitution.
Specifically, SCA 3 requires local government compliance while allowing the state to shirk responsibility for financing the mandate. It accomplishes the state’s previous aim of cost savings while avoiding the public outcry.
“Today’s action by the Assembly allows California voters to debate the importance of strengthening the state’s most critical open government laws by requiring compliance in the Constitution,” Leno said in a statement posted on his official Senate website. “If approved by voters, SCA 3 would permanently uphold and protect a person’s right to inspect public records and attend public meetings, which are principles we all respect and treasure.”
The California League of Cities not taken a definitive position on the measure however in June, Legislative Director Daniel Carrigg sent a “notice of concerns” to Senator Leno. In the letter Carrigg lists several apprehensions regarding the impact SCA 3 will have on local jurisdictions, including the possibility for increased costs to municipalities should the Legislature decide to expand requirements in the future.
“The state should not have to provide a fiscal incentive to local governments so that they comply with these important transparency laws,” remarked Leno in his official statement.
SCA 3 passed the Assembly on Tuesday with no opposition. Voters will decide on June 3 of next year.