In California, accountability depends on transparency, which is under siege

By Dan Walters | If we – the California public – are to hold politicians and other government officials accountable, we must first know what they are doing or not doing.

Thus, the first point of conflict is always access to records of official action or inaction.

Dan WaltersThe current legislative session is the first one affected by a 2016 ballot measure (Proposition 54) that requires final versions of bills to be in print for 72 hours before lawmakers vote on them. They – particularly the dominant Democrats – don’t like it because it makes sneaking legislation through the process more difficult.

They’ve devised some hide-the-pea ways around the 72-hour rule, such as making private deals that are not written into the affected measures but are enacted later in separate bits of legislation. The Senate is being relatively respectful of the voters’ overwhelming vote for Proposition 54, but the Assembly is thumbing its nose at them with procedural rules that allow some bills to evade the 72-hour regulation.

And then there’s the Public Records Act, California’s landmark law giving the public, mostly via news media, access to official documents, with some exceptions.

Unfortunately, the list of PRA exceptions seems to be growing as legislators, who are not inclined toward openness in the first place, protect their fellow officials and/or do the bidding of powerful interests.

The current session has had 79 bills involving the PRA. While most of the proposals amount to innocuous boilerplate, the Legislature is moving those that create more exceptions and blocking those that would expand access.

A prime example is Assembly Bill 1455, which would prohibit access to local government documents relating to collective bargaining negotiations between local officials and their unions, mirroring the blackout on records of state and higher education bargaining.

To read the entire column in the Sacramento Bee, click here.

 

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