Dem. lawmaker proposes repeal of Legislative Open Records Act

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A Democratic legislator has proposed repealing a long-standing law that government watchdogs have argued protects the Legislature from public disclosure.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill Thursday that would effectively gut the Legislative Open Records Act, eliminating special legal exemptions that lawmakers carved out for themselves decades ago so they would not have to operate with the same level of transparency required of almost everyone else in government.


Under the bill, the Legislature would be subject to the broader California Public Records Act, which covers state agencies, the governor, constitutional officers and local governments.

The legislation is the latest chapter in Portantino’s ongoing feud with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles).

The two began tussling over the release of Assembly spending records last month after Pérez labeled Portantino a profligate spender and slashed his office budget. Portantino denied the allegation and requested the current spending records of all 80 members of the lower house. Assembly administrators rejected the lawmaker’s request, along with ones from several media outlets, including The Times.

Officials cited provisions in the Legislative Open Records Act that protect legislative memoranda and correspondence from public disclosure.

The Times and the Sacramento Bee have since sued the Legislature to compel the release of members’ office budgets. A handful of Republican lawmakers recently turned up the pressure, breaking ranks with legislative leaders and disclosing their office spending, in violation of Assembly rules deeming the information private.

“Assembly leaders have hidden documents and expenditures from the public long enough,” Portantino said in a statement. “It is hypocritical of the Legislature to say it embraces open government when it is fighting so hard to keep the public in the dark on how it operates. A secret budget is by its very nature a corrupt budget.’

For his part, Pérez announced a full-scale examination of the Legislature’s open records law last week, charging a task force to study the current rules and suggest changes.

“How taxpayer dollars are expended is public information, and it is our job to ensure that the public has access to it,” Pérez said in a statement.

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento