California Public Record Act threatened by stealth amendments

June 15, 2013
Peter Scheer

Peter Scheer

REQUEST from the FIRST AMENDMENT COALITION

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) is gravely threatened by stealth amendments revealed for the first time yesterday as part of a “trailer bill” to the new state budget. Instead of the relatively minor cost-saving tweaks proposed earlier by the governor and approved in legislative committees, the actual amending language will gut key transparency safeguards in California’s most important open-government law.

I am writing to ask you to call on Governor Brown to veto the relevant portions of the budget trailer bill that is headed to his desk as early as tomorrow. We invite you to do this by email to the Governor office, using the form provided in this email.

How, exactly, will the budget trailer bill undercut the CPRA and set back open government?

1) Public access to data controlled by local governments, so important to open-data and big-data initiatives, will come to an end. The final trailer bill, SB 71, eliminates the requirement of existing law that agencies must make available “electronic” records or information in “any format” in which the agency already holds them. Gov Code sec. 6253.9(a)(1). Instead, according to SB 71, “the local agency may determine the format of electronic data to be provided in response to a request for information.”

This change will empower local governments to limit data access to situations in which the requested data will show government agencies and officials in a positive light. All other requests for data will be blocked by producing data in formats that are unusable in databases. Example: Requests for data held in .xls (Excel) or .csv formats will be produced (if at all) as .pdf files–even though the agency has the data in the requested formats and therefore can provide it in the requested formats at no cost.

2) Local governments, when denying written requests for public records, will no longer be required to give a reason for the denial. SB 71 purports to make that common sense requirement (found in Gov Code sec. 6255(b)) completely optional. What does optional mean? You can be sure that all lawyers for cities, counties or school boards, once they become aware of this change, will advise their clients to give no reasons for denying records.

3) Local governments may even take the position that SB 71’s changes free them from any obligation to communicate–at all!—with requesters about the status of a denied CPRA request. Agencies that believe requested records are exempt from disclosure could elect to say nothing to the requester, leaving him/her in the dark, unable to determine–without suing–whether the requested records will be disclosed or withheld.

Tell Governor Brown to veto the provisions of SB 71 that would affect these changes in existing law.

Peter Scheer, a lawyer and journalist, is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

 


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15 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Funny that the ‘pro civil rights’ party that runs Sacramento would pull this crap.

    (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
    • r0y says:

      Historically, it was always the Democrat party to subdue rights. The “Civil Rights” of the 60’s only happened after the D’s blocked Eisenhower’s attempts at it in the 50’s because, in LBJ’s own words:
      “I’ll have those niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years” – and indeed, they have.

      Learn history. Or for a quick education, listen to this man on why he left the Democrats plantation.

      (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
      • robert a says:

        The supposed quote from LBJ is from Ronald Kessler’s book Inside the White House and is a third hand hearsay unidentified source (as with so many of Kessler’s quotes), with no other substantiation. But, nice of you to fit a word in on a public chat board you probably use everyday.

        (-5) 9 Total Votes - 2 up - 7 down
        • r0y says:

          Of course LBJ does NOT have a long history of racism. Nah, that would not fit in with any of those quotes from him, huh? Whatever, pick apart something else to try and dodge the fact that the democrat platform has been nothing but a plantation for decades. Way to obfuscate.

          (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down
          • Rambunctious says:

            That’s absolutely right…I’ve often wondered why a person would vote for a political party that benefits by having as many people in need as possible.

            (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
          • kettle says:

            r0y says:”the fact that the democrat platform has been nothing but a plantation for decades.”

            That the most backwards thing I have heard all day, speaking of obfuscation.

            (-1) 5 Total Votes - 2 up - 3 down
  2. Spirit Filled says:

    Lets just sue all of them at one time. Happy Father’s day you crooks!

    God Bless

    (8) 10 Total Votes - 9 up - 1 down
  3. godislanguage says:

    good article….crafty government agents

    Another reason for a part time legislature that meets every other year or two.

    (14) 14 Total Votes - 14 up - 0 down
  4. unlisted says:

    While I am totally outraged by the second and third items, I am ambivalent about the first. First, it is really not that difficult to convert a PDF file to other formats. I do it regularly. But, more importantly, I like the idea that marketers may have to work a littler harder to get me into their databases!

    (-8) 10 Total Votes - 1 up - 9 down
    • unlisted says:

      So most of you like the fact that corporations have the right to mine government databases for information on people and oppose anything that might make it more difficult for them to do it?

      (-3) 3 Total Votes - 0 up - 3 down
      • r0y says:

        Have you been completely asleep the last few months? It’s the other way around.

        Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees…

        (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
        • unlisted says:

          No, the first point of the proposed law only makes it slightly more difficult for corporations to mine our personal data from state and local governments. Please read the description carefully.

          The federal government’s mining of corporate data is totally different and won’t be affected at all by this law.

          (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  5. r0y says:

    Be careful pointing out the OBVIOUS, in our face evidence that there is a larger picture coming into focus with regards to government. The Common Core State Standards had to have privacy waivers for education institutions (up to 20 years of age), because the “standards” required illegally obtaining information and “metadata” from our children. Likewise, this local version of openness in government is being “adjusted” so that further data collection can occur at state and local levels without violating existing privacy laws.

    It’s a nasty octopus, with tentacles far-reaching into places one would not think they need to. It’s as if those in power are readying themselves for a truly Fascist State – like the one the American press admired in Italy in the early 20th century. People think we’re moving to communism, and we may ultimately get there, but I think National Fascism is first, with enough Socialism thrown in to get the low-information / low-performance citizens.

    Heck, if you can’t convince enough Americans to buy into your big-government Fascism, just lure in a bunch of ignorant masses with empty promises of hopes and dreams… not like THAT is also happening.

    Anyone else start putting all this together, then realize: Holy Cow! I’m a conspiracy theorist… except is it still a conspiracy or a theory when it is proven true, and shown to be going on?

    (18) 24 Total Votes - 21 up - 3 down
    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      I’m in total agreement with you except that I might see more of a corporate hand in all of this and think that “low-information” citizens are found in equal proportions on the “conservative” side of our political scene.

      (4) 14 Total Votes - 9 up - 5 down
    • LAH says:

      This is the typical tactic our government has been using over the past years.
      A few years ago they had the cash for clunkers program…in the fine print you forfeited your right to privacy, giving government the right to any and all information from your I.p. address. Most people never read the small print. Today no one is alarmed by it. You are right Roy, STEP BY STEP we become a fascist state.

      (16) 16 Total Votes - 16 up - 0 down

Comments are closed.