Shameful! Democrats Reject Assemblywoman Shannon Grove’s Bill to Codify Court Decision Allowing Public Access to Certain Legislative Records

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I’m 3 for 3 on guessing the outcome of the triad of bills introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to reform the operations of the California State Legislature. On April 26, the Assembly Rules Committee rejected Assembly Bill 1946 on a 5-4 vote, with five Democrats opposed, four Republicans in support, and two Democrats not voting.

The bill was supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC. (See my support letter here.) I was not able to attend the committee hearing to speak as a witness for AB 1946 because I was in Orange County on other business at that time.

This bill would have codified the December 2, 2011 Sacramento County Superior Court decision in Los Angeles Times Communications LLC v California Legislature (Case Number: 34-2011-80000929). It would have added to state law a statement of the court that “The language of the Open Records Act at issue here reflects a strong presumption in favor of public access to legislative records.” AB 1946 also would have added to state law the court’s statement that records that “reflect how Assembly money is budgeted and spent” are public records. According to the court, these records “indisputably contain information relating to the conduct of the public’s business” which is “critical to an understanding of the Legislature’s operations.”

The committee’s bill analysis for AB 1946 was essentially useless, although it suggested a clarification to the bill language that alluded to the practice of moving staff around from committees to personal offices to avoid budget restrictions.

News Media Coverage:

Assembly Kills Bill to Require Disclosure of Member Budgets – Sacramento Bee – April 26, 2012

Assembly Scuttles Bill to Make Budget Disclosure Permanent – Sacramento Bee – April 27, 2012

Assembly Errs in Keeping Its Process Closed – Bakersfield Californian (editorial) – April 30, 2012

Sacramento, A Place of No Surprises – Santa Maria Times (editorial) – May 1, 2012

Here’s a powerful excerpt from the Bakersfield Californian editorial:

One of the bills that died was an attempt by Bakersfield Assemblywoman Shannon Grove to stipulate in the Legislative Open Records Act that member-by-member budgets for individual lawmakers and their offices are public record. Grove’s bill came in response to a court decision in which a judge ruled legislative budgets are public records despite the Legislature’s long insistence otherwise. The Democratic-led committee said the judge’s decision was enough; the bill wasn’t necessary.

But why not codify the judge’s decision into law? The Legislative Open Records Act has long been regarded as a joke among open government experts and Grove’s bill could have helped bolster its legitimacy. It’s hard to see any political motivation on Grove’s part here, other than her well-documented disdain for big government and willingness to shine the light on those who take their duties as stewards of the public trust lightly. Her bill deserved more consideration and it’s a shame it was given short-shrift.

And an excerpt from the Santa Maria Times editorial:

The author of the disclosure bill, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican, admitted she filed the legislation knowing it had little chance of survival — which tells you a lot about how little confidence she had in her colleagues’ ability or willingness to be honest about how they spend your tax dollars.

It’s interesting to note that Assemblywoman Grove, who tried to launch the legislation mentioned above to require full financial disclosure, is also helping the group trying to promote the part-time Legislature notion. Well, at least we know one person in Sacramento is focused on making a better government.

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