California keeping lawmakers’ emails secret
March 14, 2016
California has stiff rules against viewing state legislators’ emails, the results of recent record requests show. Many other states also make it difficult to obtain lawmakers’ emails. [OC Register]
The Associated Press recently requested a week’s worth of calendar entries and emails for the top four lawmakers in every state, as well as for most governors. In California, the Assembly and Senate Rules committees declined the requests, citing a number of exemptions, including privacy and legislative privilege.
Under the 1968 California Public Records Act, public officials in the state must turn over most of their government records when requested. However, the 1975 Legislative Open Records Act exempts legislators’ correspondence and communications with private citizens.
In response to the AP request, the Rules committees also cited a 1991 California Supreme Court ruling that said Gov. George Deukmejian was not required to disclose his calendar.
Current California Gov. Jerry Brown and several other statewide elected officials regularly release their schedules when requested. But, Brown’s office told the AP it releases the governor’s calendar monthly and would not provide earlier access to a week of appointments.
Brown’s office did not turn over any emails to the AP, either. The governor’s office said Brown did not use his state email account during the week that the AP requested.
Nationwide, the majority of states declined the AP’s request for legislators’ emails and daily schedules. Many other states also exempt legislators from public record laws that apply to other government officials.
In 2011, California legislators agreed to release their office budgets after a judge ruled they were being improperly withheld. The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times against the Assembly.
The Assembly Rules Committee now publishes an annual expenditure reports showing how much individual members spend.