New fight over weakening state transparency law

5:17 PM, Jun 19, 2013   |    comments
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Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are praising the state's existing law requiring public access to government documents -- even though there's disagreement about a new budget provision to make portions of that law an optional duty for local governments.

At issue are a handful of provisions in the budget awaiting Brown's signature that would remove state funding for the California Public Records Act (PRA) -- specifically, portions of the law that require the state to reimburse local officials for collecting and releasing documents.

After several days of angry newspaper editorials and social media outrage, state lawmakers changed course Wednesday... but not in unison.

Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, announced his house would remove the controversial provision; Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, rejected that option but promised to back a 2014 amendment to the state constitution.

The governor issued a statement backing Steinberg, not Perez.

"We all agree that Californians have a right to know," said Brown in the statement.  "I support enshrining these protections in California's constitution."

The fracas in recent days included accusations that lawmakers were trying to hide the change in how the state's public records law is carried out with a stealth and last minute plot.

Not true.

Brown actually made the proposal more than five months ago in his January budget, one of several state funded mandates that he suggested be scrapped.

Legislators discussed the PRA mandate in budget committees, the Legislature's analysts released a report on the plan on May 31, and then a budget conference committee voted unanimously to make PRA provisions optional (and thus, save the state money) on June 10.

The real truth is that while some noticed the proposal early, the vast majority of political and government journalists didn't notice it until last week, focused instead on bigger budget fights.

Yes, that includes yours truly.

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