Letting The Sunshine In At City Hall
Text of Nov. 2004 CA Open-Gov't Sunshine Constitutional Amendment
(January 19, 2004) -- The LB City Council, already openly lustful at a scheme (not even qualified for the ballot yet) to hike L.A. County's sales tax to feed LB City Hall and others, ought to support a measure already slated for the Nov. 2004 ballot to protect the public's right to know what's being done with public money in the public's name.
The CA legislature has voted overwhelmingly -- 78-0 in the Assembly, 34-0 in the CA Senate with LB reps Lowenthal, Oropeza and Karnette all voting "aye" -- to put SCA 1, the CA open-government Sunshine Amendment, on the Nov. 2004 statewide ballot.
The measure would for the first time give Californians a constitutional right of access to information about the conduct of the people's business by government.
This significant reform, spearheaded by the CA First Amendment Coalition, is long overdue.
Some government bodies have persistently flouted CA's Public Records Act, whose legislative loopholes courts have worsened by letting officials offer endless excuses and pretexts for hiding materials from taxpayers, neighborhood activists and reporters.
The open-government ballot measure would provide a constitutional right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, requiring meetings of public bodies and writings of public officials and agencies to be open to public scrutiny.
It requires a statute, court rule or other authority to be broadly construed if it furthers the right of access, and narrowly construed if it limits the right of access.
It requires a statute, court rule or other authority adopted after the effective date of this measure to include findings demonstrating the interest protected, and the need for that protection
As the CA First Amendment Coalition notes on its web site:
SCA 1 is the result of two years of advocacy and negotiation by the California First Amendment Coalition and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. The first year was spent on an earlier, more detailed version -- SCA 7 -- that prompted strong opposition from local government lobbies and reservations from Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Its progress was slowed enough that it died in the Assembly.
SCA 1, introduced a year ago, overcame opposition and won the support of the League of California Cities and Lockyer's office, by making significant concessions to limitations of and exemptions from public access to meetings and records found in current law and, for the Legislature, future law. In particular:
- constitutional privacy and statutes reflecting that right, as well as dues process and equal protection rights, are not to be "superseded or modified";
- to the extent that statutory procedures to keep peace officer qualification and performance records confidential reflect the constitutional privacy right, those procedures would likewise not be superseded or modified;
- other statutes allowing closed sessions and withholding of government records would not be "repealed or nullified"; and
- with respect to the Legislature itself, not only existing but future limits on access to meetings and records found in the constitution, statutes and house rules would not be repealed, nullified, superseded or modified.
The last proviso, by which state legislators neatly exempted themselves from the disclosure requirements, was blasted months ago by then-candidate, now-Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I would eliminate the special protection from public scrutiny of proceedings, records, and deliberations of 'the Legislature, the Members of the Legislature, and its employees, committees, and caucuses.' There is no reason why the Legislature should be shielded from the antiseptic of sunshine. As Governor, I will propose a constitutional amendment to guarantee Californians a constitutional right to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, including the Executive branch and the Legislature," said then-candidate Schwarzenegger.
However, as the CA First Amendment Coalition notes on its web site, this provision "became necessary to win legislative approval."
That's OK. As it stands, the constitutional amendment is a major step forward (read text below)...and the legislature's self-exemption can be dealt with by a subsequent ballot measures.
Even the League of CA Cities, normally quite protective of local government prerogatives, supports the measure.
We urge voters to approve it in November...and to see if LB Councilmembers put their City Hall on record supporting it.
Finally, actions speak louder than words. LBReport.com has cited repeated examples of LB City Hall's resourcefulness in applying what we consider the "mushroom treatment" (keeping the public in the dark and fed manure) in important matters. We have used the Public Records Act to report stories that might otherwise not have seen the light of day. Some LB community activists have had to fight long, arduous, lonely, uphill battles they shouldn't have to fight just to find out what their City Hall is doing.
Apart from the minimal disclosure requirements of state law, LB Councilmembers have the policysetting power right now to apply open-government principles to the way their City Hall does business...and should support enacting a LB Charter Amendment to make open government in LB a matter of our city's law once and for all.
SEC. 3. (a) The people have the right to instruct their
representatives, petition government for redress of grievances, and
assemble freely to consult for the common good.
(b) (1) The people have the right of access to information
concerning the conduct of the people's business, and, therefore, the
meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and
agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.
(2) A statute, court rule, or other authority, including those in
effect on the effective date of this subdivision, shall be broadly
construed if it furthers the people's right of access, and narrowly
construed if it limits the right of access. A statute, court rule,
or other authority adopted after the effective date of this
subdivision that limits the right of access shall be adopted with
findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and
the need for protecting that interest.
(3) Nothing in this subdivision supersedes or modifies the right
of privacy guaranteed by Section 1 or affects the construction of any
statute, court rule, or other authority to the extent that it
protects that right to privacy, including any statutory procedures
governing discovery or disclosure of information concerning the
official performance or professional qualifications of a peace
(4) Nothing in this subdivision supersedes or modifies any
provision of this Constitution, including the guarantees that a
person may not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due
process of law, or denied equal protection of the laws, as provided
in Section 7.
(5) This subdivision does not repeal or nullify, expressly or by
implication, any constitutional or statutory exception to the right
of access to public records or meetings of public bodies that is in
effect on the effective date of this subdivision, including, but not
limited to, any statute protecting the confidentiality of law
enforcement and prosecution records.
(6) Nothing in this subdivision repeals, nullifies, supersedes, or
modifies protections for the confidentiality of proceedings and
records of the Legislature, the Members of the Legislature, and its
employees, committees, and caucuses provided by Section 7 of Article
IV, state law, or legislative rules adopted in furtherance of those
provisions; nor does it affect the scope of permitted discovery in
judicial or administrative proceedings regarding deliberations of the
Legislature, the Members of the Legislature, and its employees,
committees, and caucuses.
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