Capitol Weekly

Posted 06.08.2014

State lawmakers and voters agree on one thing: transparency in government.

Local government, that is. State government remains exempt.

Did voters know that when they approved Proposition 42 on June 3?

The proposition – approved by 61.7% of California’s electorate – puts into the state’s constitution a provision requiring local governments and agencies to comply with laws – the Public Records Act and the Brown Act — governing open meetings and access to public records.

Before this, the costs of covering those statutes was picked up by the state. Now, the local entities will cover the tab themselves.

By one estimate, the cost comes to about $48 million annually statewide. That figure includes staff pay to provide documents, paperwork costs such as copying and posting agendas, and legal costs to vet the information requests. In the context of a $100 billion state budget, the number may not appear large but strapped local governments, however, have a different view.

“When the Legislature says you have to respond, there is a cost to that. No matter if you are a teeny, tiny special district or Los Angeles County. They do not differentiate your ability to retain records. The Legislature sets the rules,” said Jean Hurst of the California State Association of Counties, which did not take an official position on the ballot proposition.

Unchanged is state lawmakers’ own exemption from the open-meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, the 60-year-old statute that deals with, among other things, close-door meetings and the advance posting of agendas by hundreds of city councils, 58 boards of supervisors, some 1,000 school districts and hundreds of other local agencies and special districts.

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