On Thursday, April 26, the California State Assembly’s Rules Committee will consider the third of a triad of bills from Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to reform the operations of the California State Legislature.
Assembly Bill 1946 deals with public access to records of the legislature. It would add language to the Legislative Open Records Act (Government Code Section 9070-9080) to state that this law shall be construed with a strong presumption in favor of public access to legislative records. It also states that a record that reflects the approved budget allocation for a legislator or the legislator’s office is not exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Legislative Open Records Act.
Here is my support letter for this bill, which cites the failure of the legislature to provide records indicating which legislator gave the secret unilateral directive for an “all-union workforce” to build the Capitol Safety and Security Improvements Project in 2005:
This 2011 report from the Pacific Research Institute (based in San Francisco) discusses problems with government compliance under the Legislative Open Records Act and Public Records Act (Ralph M. Brown Act), and it cites some of my difficulties getting public records when I was employed by Associated Builders and Contractors of California:
Assembly Bill 1946 codifies the December 2, 2011 decision of a Sacramento County Superior Court judge in Los Angeles Times v. California Legislature. The Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee – both members of the California Newspaper Publishers Association – sued the legislature to get legislative office budget records after the legislature refused the requests of Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena) and various newspapers for these records.
This controversy began in July 2011 when Assemblyman Portantino claimed that his office was being unfairly deprived of extra funding for excessive office expenses because he was the only Democrat to vote against the 2011-12 state budget. (He opposed education cuts, prison realignment, and elimination of redevelopment agencies.) Portantino was upset about the possibility of having to furlough his office staff, and he tried to obtain budget records for other offices to prove that many offices besides his own spent more than their official allotment set by the Assembly Rules Committee. When the legislature finally released the records, those records indicated that Portantino spent the most on personal office staff. But a Palo Alto group called California Common Sense analyzed the records and concluded in a report that the information had been manipulated to falsely smear Portantino, whom they claimed was actually ranked 18th.
See these Los Angeles Times articles about the controversy:
Portantino Accuses Democrats of Reprisal for Budget Opposition – July 12, 2011
California Legislature Releases Members’ Spending Records – August 27, 2011
Judge Rules State Assembly Must Disclose Lawmakers’ Budget Records – December 5, 2011
Also, see this interesting commentary by Steve Greenhut in www.CalWatchdog.com:
Portantino Late Convert to Openness Issue – August 29, 2011
Also, see this Los Angeles Times article about how Democrat leaders in the legislature punish Democrat mavericks and troublesome Republicans:
State Lawmakers Toe the Line or Risk Losing Their Parking Spots – August 1, 2011
I predict that Assemblywoman Shannon Grove will soon suffer at the hands of Democrat leaders for calling for a part-time legislature and backing up her argument with her triad of three bills to reform the California State Legislature. But right now legislative leaders have to deal with Assemblyman Portantino again for introducing these three reform bills:
Assembly Committee Kills Portantino’s Whistleblower Protections for Legislative Employees – Again – April 24, 2012 Press Release
Portantino Wants Accurate Reporting of Outside Compensation for Public Officials – April 17, 2012 Press Release
Portantino’s Bill to End Special Perk for Legislator’s Vanity License Plates Passes Key Committee – April 16, 2012 Press Release