OPEN GOVERNMENT -- A state lawmaker who in 2006 carried a bill sponsored by Californians Aware containing revolutionary changes to the open meetings and public records laws—only to see it vetoed after unanimous legislative approval—now says he will ask the current candidates for governor if they would sign such a measure were he to reintroduce it next year.

Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) writes in a guest column in the Palm Springs Desert Sun:

As we commemorate Sunshine Week, there is value in reflecting upon
the vital need for transparency in the operations of our government. A
foundation stone of a vibrant democracy is the ability of citizens to be
able to access public documents that detail how their tax dollars are
spent. Just as important as our constitutional right to freedom of the
press may be, the press' right and ability to gather the information
necessary to keep us an informed citizenry is of equal importance.With these thoughts in
mind, the California Public Records Act was enacted in 1968 to ensure
the public's right to know how state and local governments are
functioning. Public records are defined as any recording relating to the
conduct of the public's business. The Public Records Act prohibits
governmental agencies from delaying the inspection of public records and
requires that they must respond to requests within 10 days.

Agencies don't comply with the spirit of the
law

Despite the enactment of the Public
Records Act, a January 2006 audit by California Aware revealed that most
state agencies were not complying with the spirit or substance of it.
Basic elements of the act were tested in the audit. The Public Records
Act requires state agencies to post request guidelines in a conspicuous
public space and to designate staff to handle these requests.
The audit also asked
for the salary of the highest-paid individual of each agency. The
average grade for each of these offices was an F. In every case, the
staff person communicating with the auditor asked for identification and
the reason for the inquiry, though both of these acts are prohibited.

In March 2006, Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-03-06 requiring that his
agencies comply with the 38-year-old Public Records Act.
A second audit by California Aware subsequent to the
executive order found that compliance was no greater as a result of its
issuance.

Unanimous approval in both
state houses

In response to the
administration's inability to operate according to our sunshine law, I
introduced AB 2927 in 2006. The intent of the bill was to bring our
Public Records Act into the 21st century. It would have required each
state agency that has an Internet Web site to provide an online form
whereby Californians can submit public record requests directly. These
agencies would have been required to provide on the site their own
access guidelines and contact information for an assistance officer to
aid the process.

I say
“would have required” because despite the highly uncommon success of
garnering 120 out of 120 legislative votes, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed
this important bill. Clearly, this was not a controversial or partisan
effort. Every member of both houses of the Legislature, both Republicans
and Democrats, voted for it, without a single abstention. So the 2003
recall candidate who promised to “open the windows in Sacramento and let
the sunshine in” ducked into the shadows. This does a serious
disservice to the trust and faith in our democracy.

We
will try again with a new governor

As we
engage in the gubernatorial campaign season, it is incumbent upon all of
us, irrespective of party affiliation, to ask candidates where they
stand on transparency in government and whether they would sign AB 2927
if I reintroduce it as a Senate bill next year after our new governor is
installed.
The
only way we will be able to ensure that we pass along a vital and
thriving democracy to our children is by giving government agencies
plenty of sunshine.

Sen.
Mark Leno, a Democrat, represents the 3rd Senate District of
California, which includes Marin and portions of San Francisco and
Sonoma counties. Contact him through his Web site, www.sen.ca.gov/Leno.