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California Public Records Act Threatened by Stealth Amendments

Public access to government documents is being threatened by stealth amendments to the California Public Records Act. The amendments are part of a “trailer bill” to the new state budget. Currently, the government must provide electronic records in any format in which the agency holds them and provide reasons for denying a written request for public records.

SB 71 eliminates the requirement that agencies must make available electronic records or information in any format in which the agency already holds them. Instead, according to SB 71, “the local agency may determine the format of electronic data to be provided in response to a request for information.”

Agencies may choose to produce data in formats that are unusable in easily searchable databases such as providing .pdf files instead of .xls (Excel) files. It is critical for government transparency and accountability that government records be available to the public in the same format that the government uses to make its decisions. Producing data unusable in searchable databases would limit the public’s ability to analyze the government’s data and challenge its decisions. This is a foundation of democracy.

Also, SB 71 allows the government to not provide a reason for a denial to a written request for public records. This leaves the public in the dark about the government’s actions.

The City Project supports the veto of Sections 4 and 118 of SB 71. The California Public Records Act is hugely important in directing and advancing our work in equal justice and democracy.

Click here for more information on SB 71 and to tell Governor Jerry Brown to veto Sections 4 and 118 of SB 71. The bill is headed to his desk as early as tomorrow.