Blogs » Man Bites Dog » California public records law 'eviscerated' in budget bill, critics charge

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The Silicon Valley Mercury News has been reporting on a piece of legislation California lawmakers tucked into a state bill last week that would "'eviscerate' the public's ability to track tax dollars and hold local officials accountable."

The Advocate is still waiting on records that it requested from the city attorney, on behalf of the city council members, more than a month ago.

The general counsel of the California Newspaper Publisher's Association said Friday in the Mercury News story that, "This is the worst assault on the public's right to know I have seen in my 18 years of doing this."

Language inserted into a budget bill on Wednesday would allow local governments to turn down requests for records without citing a legal reason. It would no longer require government officials to respond to to records requests within 10 days or force them to help the public by describing what records exist.

The changes were aimed at reducing costs, as Gov. Jerry Brown said; however, what it appears to accomplish is gutting access to the public's right to know.

"It's not about saving money — it's all about curtailing an open, transparent government that can be held accountable," state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco said in the Mercury News story. "The only way we're held accountable is when the public has the information to understand what were doing."

The bill suggest local governments follow current law as a "best practice" but also allows them the option of ignoring transparency provisions by announcing annually that they will not follow them. It also changes a major provision of the law about electronic records, stripping a requirement that governments release things like data bases and spreadsheets in the form they are kept, instead giving them the option of picking their own format, such as paper copies, Mercury News reported.