By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Accessing public records is one of the hallmarks of a free society, adds Bowen. “It’s the reason we don’t have people disappear into secret jail cells or secret courts.”
In his veto message, Davis misrepresented the Bowen bill, claiming he was acting to “protect the confidentiality of citizens” whose records are stored by the state.
In an angry written response issued after the veto last October, Bowen charged that Davis was following the lead of former Republican Governor Wilson, who had vetoed the same legislation.
“Either you believe the taxpayers should have low-cost, electronic access to the public records they paid to create, or you don’t. And clearly this governor doesn’t,” stated Bowen. Bowen said her bill had nothing to do with releasing confidential information. “The bill only applies to items covered by the Public Records Act.”
Bowen also took aim at the state’s bureaucrats: “Although there aren’t any fingerprints, this bill was really killed by the government agencies who think that they, not the taxpayers, own the public records and ought to be able to sell them at a profit.”
Now Migden, Sher and Bowen are re-introducing their vetoed bills.
“Carole Migden will reintroduce 1340 [renumbered AB 2101], but nothing will be different,” explains Jeff Long, a staffer in Migden’s office. “We are going to put it in and keep trying to work with the Governor’s Office. We hope there are minds to be changed,” he adds.
Long also points out that last year’s bill not only had the support of the powerful prison guards union, but also had Republican Senators Ray Haynes and Tom McClintock, two of the Senate’s most conservative members, as co-authors.
“We are expecting no problems passing this bill again,” says Long, “and we hope the governor is more willing to work with us on this, now that he’s in his second year.”
Francke says the Sher bill, now renumbered SB 2027, will include one important change. In his SB 48 veto message, Davis stated that he took the action because it conflicted with another bill he had signed, requiring state agencies to employ the attorney general as its representation in any case emanating from state duties.
“Sher’s new bill states that a review by the A.G.’s Office will occur only if that agency is not currently advised by the A.G.,” explains Francke. “He hopes that change will be enough to get the governor to sign it.”
The biggest change will occur with Bowen’s legislation. Instead of being a stand-alone bill, SB 1065 will be part of a companion bill, AB 2799, authored by San Francisco Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, says Bowen chief of staff Evan Goldberg.
The Shelley bill includes a major change in the balancing test contained in the Public Records Act. Under the current formula, it is up to people making a request to prove they are entitled to a record. If the Shelley bill passes, not only will electronic access to electronic records be guaranteed, but the agency whose records are requested will have to prove it is entitled to keep them secret.
In contrast to pro-access legislative efforts by Migden, Sher, Bowen and Shelley, state Senator Steve Peace (D–El Cajon), a part-time filmmaker whose claim to fame is producing the film Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, has introduced the mother of all anti–public records legislation: SB 129. This bill would enable any individual to sue a business or government entity if it releases personal information without his or her permission.
The statute would effectively grind the transfer of information in California to a halt. For example, anyone who applies for credit cards or loans would have to give individual written permission to the lender to contact each credit source listed on their application. Information services, credit agencies and private investigators would either be put out of business or see their operations severely restricted.
Court and arrest records and virtually all current public records could be made confidential. Law-enforcement investigations would be stymied because police officers, if they’re not exempted, would find their ability to collect background information on suspects blocked.
Peace’s legislation also flies in the face of the facts. According to the Privacy Journal, a Rhode Island–based monthly newsletter that monitors privacy laws nationwide, California currently ranks as the top privacy state in the country.
“Its courts and its constitution provide the strongest privacy protection in the nation. [California] probably has the strongest collection of laws protecting personal information,” writes the Privacy Journal’s editors.
If enacted, Peace’s proposed legislation would mark the death knell of the Public Records Act in California.