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Public's Right To Government Records Going To June California Ballot

SACRAMENTO (AP) - California voters will decide whether the public's right to inspect local government records should be enshrined in the state constitution after lawmakers voted Tuesday to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next June.

If voters approve, local governments would have to follow the California Public Records Act and the state's open-meetings law but would not be reimbursed by the state for doing so.

The legislation, SCA3, was proposed in response to a media outcry over changes that loosened requirements on how local governments handle requests for public records. Lawmakers said the changes, which were proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in the state budget, were intended to save the state millions of dollars it must pay local governments for following the law.

The state "should not have to provide a fiscal incentive to local governments so that they comply with these important transparency laws," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who sponsored the amendment.

The Assembly approved the constitutional amendment Tuesday with no opposition.

The Commission on State Mandates ruled in May 2011 that local agencies could seek state reimbursement for complying with parts of the public records law. The state has not yet made any payments to the local governments because the commission has not finished calculating how much local governments are owed.

California's public records law requires agencies to respond to records requests within 10 days and to make an electronic copy of records available when possible. The Brown Act requires local meetings to be public and states that hearing notices and agendas must be accessible.

Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which supports the amendment, said enshrining the access to public records in the state constitution "will fortify the public's right to access the meetings and records of government agencies as a bedrock principle of democratic government."

Officials with some local government agencies worry that if lawmakers later decide to expand the laws and include new requirements, the costs of complying could escalate for them.

Voter approval of the constitutional amendment would not prevent lawmakers from making future changes to the laws. Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said Tuesday that any bills creating new local costs would be reviewed by the Legislature's fiscal committees.

"SCA3 will ensure the highest level of public engagement and informed, meaningful participation in government by the public with the proper notice and access to meetings of their government," Levine said.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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