State voters could decide on open-records law next year

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), left, and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) talk to reporters at the Capitol in Sacramento.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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SACRAMENTO -- One day after California officials reversed course on a measure that could have limited public access to government documents, two lawmakers on Friday introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that they said would strengthen the state’s public-records law.

The amendment, proposed by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) would also ensure that local agencies have to pay any costs associated with complying with the law.

The issue over who should pay for government openness engulfed Sacramento this week, after lawmakers approved a plan by Gov. Jerry Brown to suspend the law rather than pay for it with state dollars.


A measure was tucked into the state budget plan that would have given local governments the option of opting out of parts of the law -- namely the current requirement that agencies respond to records requests within 10 days, provide electronic records when available, and offer assistance to those seeking access to information.

A state commission had ruled that Sacramento should reimburse cities, counties and other agencies for costs associated with complying with the law. In a cost-saving move, Brown suggested suspending the law rather than keep the state on the hook for an estimated tens of millions of dollars the local entities were seeking.

However, Brown and state lawmakers reversed course on their plan this week, after mounting public pressure to maintain the public records law as it is.

“The state should not have to provide a fiscal incentive to local governments so that they comply with these important transparency laws,” Leno said in a statement Friday.

Sacramento will still be responsible for reimbursing local governments for at least another year, but if the measure is approved by voters next June, the state would then be off the hook financially.

In a statement earlier this week, Brown voiced support for such a constitutional amendment.



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