Louis XIV, the French “Sun King” viewed as the pinnacle of absolute monarchy prior to the Revolution, is often (if baselessly) quoted to have said, “L’Etat, c’est moi”—”I am the State.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has defended its refusal to release to the public any information from its multi-year investigation, recently concluded, of the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation practices by saying, “We are the public.” Federal secrecy monitor Stephen Aftergood quotes her as explaining, “I mean, we are the public check on the Executive Branch . . .We are not of the intelligence community. We are the public, and it is our oversight, it is our due diligence to go in and read the classified material.” Committee Vice-Chair Saxbe Chambliss (R-Georgia), in almost all other respects on the opposite ideological extreme from Feinstein, was a perfect echo, reports Aftergood. “In matters concerning the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] Court, the congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees serve as the eyes and ears of the American people. Through this oversight, which includes being given all significant decisions, orders, and opinions of the court, we can ensure that the laws are being applied and implemented as Congress intended.” The context for these bland assurances of “Trust us—we’ve got your back,” was the Senate’s refusal on December 27-28 to provide more public information about the impacts of government surveillance on the privacy of American communications, renewing the FISA Amendments Act for five more years (President Obama signed it into law on December 30) untrammeled by the mildest concessions to public awareness. Aftergood believes this refusal signals a reorientation of intelligence oversight away from public accountability. The congressional intelligence committees once presented themselves as champions [...]
Some bad ideas are so irresponsible they might as well be intentionally destructive, and some pieces of legislation are prime examples of this sorry fact. Take Senator Dianne Feinstein’s anti-leak provisions in the current intelligence authorization bill, which passed her Senate Intelligence Committee the other day. It exempts the Congress itself and the White House from any penalties for leaking classified information but makes ordinary interactions between journalists and intelligence officials extraordinarily risky. The bill’s troubling threats to First Amendment freedoms—in both its vague terms and draconian consequences—were spelled out today by two veteran experts on government secrecy: a watchdog policy analyst and a foreign affairs journalist.
SESSION: 2011 INFORMATION: SB 563 (Committee on Transportation and Housing) would permit meetings of the board of directors of a common interest development association (gated community, condo, etc.) to be conducted by teleconference, as specified. The bill would require that the notice of a teleconference meeting identify at least one physical location so that members of the association may attend and would require that at least one member of the board of directors be present there. The bill would prohibit the board of directors from taking action on any item of business outside of a meeting, and would prohibit the board from conducting a meeting via a series of electronic transmissions, such as electronic mail, except to conduct an emergency meeting, as specified. POSITION: Support STATUS: Signed into law.
SESSION: 2011 INFORMATION: SB 252 (Vargas) would require a state agency that enters into a privatization contract to report to the Secretary of State regarding those contracts, and would require the Secretary of State to compile, publish, and make the reports available for public inspection. The bill would also provide that a subcontract executed under a privatization contract is a public record, and would require the contractor to submit these subcontracts to the contracting agency, which would in turn be required to make the records available to the public pursuant to the California Public Records Act. State agencies would also be required to prepare, as part of their budget requests, a document that contains specified information relating to their use of private contractors. POSITION: Support STATUS: Failed passage in Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee; reconsideration granted.
SESSION: 2011 INFORMATION: SB 118 (Yee) would authorize a public agency, notwithstanding any other law, to enter into an energy service contract and any necessarily related facility ground lease only if its contracting process is in accordance with competitive bidding requirements and procedures for public contracts, as specified. POSITION: Support STATUS: Amended to other subject matter after opposition from school lobbyists and more than 35 energy and other companies.
SESSION: 2011 INFORMATION: AB 503 (Block) would authorize county elections officials, after tallying all eligible votes but before completion of the official canvass and the issuance of the certified statement of the results, and upon the request of a qualified write-in candidate for an examination of undervotes that is received within 5 days of completion of the semi-official canvass, to hand tally the remaining undervotes if specified conditions are applicable. If an elections official conducts a hand tally pursuant to this authority, the bill would require the elections official to include the results in the official canvass of the election. POSITION: Support STATUS: Signed into law.
SESSION: 2011 INFORMATION: AB 172 (Eng) would require the California Technology Agency to create and maintain a Reporting Transparency in Government Internet Web site, comparable to the one created by Governor Schwarzenegger’s executive order and discontinued by Governor Brown’s executive order. It would require, with some exemptions, state agencies to post specified audits to that Internet Web site for a period of 3 years, and would require the Department of General Services, the California Technology Agency, and other state agencies to post specified summary data regarding contracts awarded by the state to that Internet Web site, for the length of the contract. POSITION: Support STATUS: Vetoed