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California Lawmakers Considering Public Record, Open Government Legislation

A look at bills being considered that would impact the public’s access to information

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    California Lawmakers Considering Public Record, Open Government Legislation
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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Clea Relly from The National Archives extracts a file from the archive March 23, 2004 in London. Dozens of documents, including classified reports on Henry Kissinger, John Lennon and Evelyn Waugh which have been classified for decades, have been released into the public domain. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

    California lawmakers are considering bills that could change how the public obtains information from the government and how that information is released.

    Some of the bills would impact how the Brown Act and California Public Records Act are interpreted. The Brown Act was passed in 1953 and guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in government meetings. The CPRA allows the public to request access to government information, including emails, video, photographs and data.

    Both acts allow the public to understand and gain access to what is happening within local and state government agencies. The acts serve as a sort of checks and balance function for citizens to keep tabs on what the government is doing.

    Below is a look at some of the bills being considered in the California Legislature that could impact public access:

    • Assembly Bill 1940, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D), would ask the Legislature to enact legislation establishing policies and procedures to address issues related to peace officers' use of body-worn cameras. It was read in February and may be introduced to a committee this month.
    • Assembly Bill 1957, introduced by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D), would ask the Legislature to create a law revising the CPRA so peace officer body cameras footage related to use of force or death are released to the public if the interest in public disclosure outweighs the need to protect an individual's privacy. The bill was read in February and may head to committee this month.
    • Assembly Bill 1707, introduced by Assemblyman Eric Linder (R), would require any response to a CPRA request to be in writing regardless of whether the request was in writing. It would also require the written response to include a list containing the name of each record requested but withheld and the reason why it was withheld, citing the exemption. The bill is being considered in committee.
    • Assembly Bill 2533, introduced by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D), would require law enforcement and public safety officers be given notice before any audio or video recordings made by the officer are released on the internet. The bill says a minimum of five business days’ notice is required. It also allows the officer, a district attorney or United States Attorney to seek an injunction prohibiting the release. It was referred to committee.
    • Assembly Bill 1648, introduced by Assemblyman Scott Wilk (R), adds to the CPRA and would prohibit state or local agencies from selling a public record subject to disclosure to a private entity that would prevent the public from sharing, distributing or publishing the record. It is currently being considered in committee.
    • Senate Bill 877, introduced by Senator Richard Pan (D), would require the California Department of Health to create and maintain a database on violent deaths. It is being considered in committee.
    • Senate Bill 1303, introduced by Senator Bob Huff (R), would require the Legislative Counsel to make all audiovisual recordings of legislative proceedings accessible to the public online and available for download for a minimum of 20 years after the date it was recorded. The bill would also allow televised or other audiovisual recordings of public proceedings of each house of the Legislature and committees to be used for any legitimate purpose, including political campaigns. Right now, anyone who does this, is guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill is being considered in committee.
    • Senate Bill 1286, introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D), would allow the public to access investigations into peace officer misconduct. Right now, those documents are normally considered exempt from disclosure. The bill would also make other records related law enforcement personnel records, including complaints against officers, public record. The American Civil Liberties Union supports this bill. It is currently being considered in committee.

    This is one of a series of posts from NBC 7 Investigates highlighting the public’s right of access to information. The stories were published to coordinate with Sunshine Week, an annual campaign bringing attention to federal and local access issues. In California, the public is able to request information from government agencies, offices and officials through the California Public Records Act. For more information on how to request information click here.