Californians! Please Write Today to Support Public Access to Government Records

I apologize for making a last-minute request, but I learned about an important opportunity for public comment only late in the day yesterday

As regular readers may know, we make regular use of the California Public Records Act in our reporting on CalPERS and private equity. The PRA, California’s version of FOIA, is stronger than similar laws in most other states. However, we routinely find that state agencies stonewall, engage in over-reaching interpretations of permitted reasons for withholding records and make impermissible redactions. Some like CalSTRS simply ignore requests. We’ve recently caught out the Los Angeles public pension fund LACERA impermissibly withholding or giving inaccurate records four times out of only three requests we have ever made to them. And those are only the ones we were able to identify through other sources!

Sp the PRA is an important law intended to provide for transparency and accountability. Our limited experience shows that California government bodies routinely thwart the statute.

We learned yesterday from the general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association that State Assemblyman Rob Bonta is sponsoring a bill, AB 1479, set to be heard next Tuesday, April 25 in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It is designed to bar obstructions and unreasonable delays to responding to PRA requests.

I’ve embedded CNPA’s letter of support. I’ve also sent in my own which is also embedded below.

I know this is last minute, but if you are in California and can send in a short note, it would be extremely helpful. Please stress that the citizens a right to have access to public records and that you are distressed to see how regularly government agencies waste taxpayer dollars and thwart transparency by denying, delaying, and/or making incomplete responses to Public Records Act requests.

Please send your letter to Alison.Merrilees@asm.ca.gov and alma.barreras@asm.ca.gov. Thanks!

AB 1479 Support copy
AB 1479 Support
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7 comments

  1. Ed

    a law to stop bureaucrats from delaying and lying, will the next law turn lead to gold?

    at least someone is trying

    Reply
  2. Buttinsky

    Just for the record, it should perhaps be noted that the California Public Records Act permits local governments to provide for even more liberal access to public records. San Francisco does exactly that with its “Sunshine Ordinance” (Administrative Code Chapter 67). And yet I can assure you from personal experience that even in “progressive” San Francisco obtaining public records can be a perpetual battle against “delays, over-reaching interpretations…” etc. And the body set up to oversee compliance, the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, is a toothless commission that never holds anybody accountable for violations of the Ordinance.

    But the real culprit in all of this is the City Attorney’s office, which is legal counsel to agencies “responding” to public records requests AND arbiter of disputes AND counsel to the Task Force itself! The inevitable conflict of interests, in a highly politicized office, leads to repeated subversions of the laws intended to protect access to public records.

    Writing that letter now.

    Reply
  3. Scrooge McDuck

    I encourage all Californias to send letters. Without strong FOIA laws, corporations and politicians will have few checks on corruption and patronage. Please do not take this issue lightly, transparency is fundamental and critical for a healthy democracy.

    Reply
  4. leapfrog

    Not sure if I did this right, but I copied some of your wording and sent it to both Alma and Alison. As the title, I put “In Support of AB 1479.” I put my name/address at the end so they know I’m a California resident. I hope my little bit helps.

    “Citizens have a right to have access to public records and I’m distressed to see how regularly government agencies waste taxpayer dollars and thwart transparency by denying, delaying, and/or making incomplete responses to Public Records Act requests.

    Please add my name to those in support of this bill.

    Thank you.”

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks so much! Just so you know, if a bunch of letters/e-mails come in with virtually identical wording, yes, there is a risk of denting the impact. But selectively cribbing from a long letter among the ones they will received shouldn’t work against your contribution.

      Reply

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