SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday to give Californians a better peek into the wallets of their elected officials and to provide the state's ethics watchdog agency with more tools to hold politicians accountable for misconduct.
Hundreds of thousands of public officials, from city council members to state bureaucrats, are required to file annual reports disclosing their personal finances — including investments and the gifts they receive — so the public can determine whether they pose a conflict of interest.
Currently, most public officials file their reports on paper and the documents are scattered among hundreds of city halls and other government buildings so they are often difficult for the public to access.
The governor signed a bill by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) that allows the state Fair Political Practices Commission to develop a statewide electronic database where officials can file their disclosure reports for access by the public on one website.
"This landmark bill will revolutionize the ability to hold public officials accountable across the state," said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the commission.
The governor also signed a bill that gives the commission more power to enforce violations of state conflict-of-interest laws. AB 1090 by Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) expands the powers to include conflicts involving contracts. Ravel called the bill a "significant milestone in the development of ethics laws in California."
The governor vetoed a measure seeking more training for campaign treasurers and a study on how to replace the state's outdated Cal-Access database, which lists for the public all campaign contributions and expenses as well as all money paid by groups to lobby the state.
In vetoing SB 3 by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), Brown said he would separately order a report on "the best way to improve campaign disclosure," adding: "There is no doubt the current system — widely viewed as outdated and cumbersome — needs upgrading."
After signing 33 bills Tuesday, Brown has about 200 left to sign or veto by Sunday, including controversial measures involving gun control, abortion and drug sentencing.
Thirteen of the bills signed Tuesday involve improving the quality and reliability of water in California. One, SB 322 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), seeks to move the state closer to recycling sewage water so it is drinkable.
The measure requires that by 2017 the state look at developing uniform standards for so-called toilet-to-tap projects, in which wastewater would undergo extensive cleansing.
"The three-year time frame in this bill is too slow," Brown wrote in a signing message. "California needs more high-quality water and recycling is the key to getting there."
The governor also signed a measure that requires water companies in Maywood and elsewhere to comply with open meeting and record rules that apply to public agencies. The bill also states the Legislature's intent "to create a public agency that can consolidate drinking water services" in that town.
Residents of Maywood have complained about the taste and appearance of the water for years, but the water companies say they have made progress. One of AB 240's leading supporters, the Central Basin Municipal Water District, has been raided twice in recent months by the FBI as part of a corruption investigation.
The company administrators alleged that the bill is an attempt by politicians with ties to Central Basin to take over their private firms so that $7.5 million in the bill can be shared with their political cronies. Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), the bill's author, denied it was tied to Central Basin.
Although Brown signed the measure, he slashed the funding made possible by the bill. "The author notes that much progress has been made in Maywood by the mutual water companies," Brown wrote in a signing message. "For these reasons I am reducing the appropriation from $7.5 million to $1 million."
Other measures signed by Brown will:
•Allow state officials to assist inmates who are eligible for Medi-Cal to enroll for the public healthcare coverage they can receive after they are out of jail or prison.
•Require health insurance companies to cover infertility treatment for same-sex couples. In addition, Brown signed a separate measure that will make it easier for transgender people to amend the gender and name on their birth certificates.
•Designate the home and burial site of former United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez as a state historic landmark.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times