California Senate OKs Constitutional amendment to protect open government

SACRAMENTO
June 1, 2011 9:03pm
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•  Would make open meeting law part of the Constitution

•  ‘Our open meeting laws are too important to be made optional’


The California Senate has unanimously approved a constitutional amendment authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to ensure public bodies follow requirements to post agendas and to disclose any actions taken.

If approved by two-thirds of the Assembly, Senate Constitutional Amendment 7 would go before voters during the next statewide ballot.

SCA 7 comes after years in which fundamentally important provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act – the state’s main open government law – have been suspended or threatened during state fiscal crisis, Mr. Yee says.

Under existing law, local governments receive reimbursement for the cost of fulfilling statutory requirements enacted by the Legislature, however when the voters approve such a law, no state reimbursement is necessary. Such would be the case under SCA 7.

Despite open government advocates arguments that there are no significant costs that should be reimbursable by the state for simply posting a single copy of an agenda in a publicly accessible location and reporting action taken in closed session, the Commission on State Mandates has reimbursed local agencies about $20 million annually.

Because of this long history of bloated and unjustifiable charges to the state, says Mr. Yee, the Legislature and the Governor suspended the Brown Act for a period of time in 1991 and the public’s rights continue to be threatened every time there is a budget shortfall.

Last year, the Brown Act was not funded in the state budget, which has created confusion about whether or not public bodies currently need to follow the agenda posting and reporting laws.

“Californians have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing,” says Mr. Yee. “One only needs to look at corruption within the city of Bell to realize that the Brown Act should never be compromised. Our open meeting laws are too important to be made optional every time the state runs short of money. SCA 7 will ensure government agencies provide the public the information they deserve.”

Tom Newton, general counsel to the California Newspaper Publishers Association, says the proposal would “once and for all require local public bodies – city councils, county boards of supervisors, school boards and special districts – to give the public ample notice of meetings and actions.”

“An open door means nothing if folks don’t know the location, time and place of the meeting and the issues to be discussed or decided,” he says.


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