The Assembly Governmental Organization Committee yesterday approved measures authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) that would add openness to the operations of public college and university fund-raising foundations and end the dependency of the Brown Act on annual appropriations from state coffers, according to a statement from Yee's office.
SB 8 would bring greater transparency and accountability to California’s public higher education institutions – the University of California, California State University, and the state’s community college system.
SCA 7 is a constitutional amendment that would ensure that local councils, boards and other government bodies post descriptive agendas and disclose any actions taken in closed session. If approved by two-thirds of the Legislature, SCA7 would go before voters during the next statewide ballot.
Under Yee’s SB 8, UC, CSU and the community college auxiliaries and foundations would have to adhere to state public records laws with most financial records, contracts, and correspondence requiring public disclosure upon request.
Recently, Yee was able to strike a compromise with the universities to remove their opposition by protecting donor anonymity in most cases.
Specifically, the bill will protect the anonymity of donors and volunteers in all cases except in situations where there is a quid pro quo in which the donor or volunteer receives something from the university valued at over $2500 or in which the donor or volunteer receives a sole source (no-bid) contract within five years of the donation. Anonymity would not be provided to any donor who attempts to influence curriculum or university operations.
“Finally, we will have sunshine and accountability of the administration of billions of dollars within UC and CSU,” said Yee.
SB 8 will next be considered the full Assembly before heading to the Governor.
SCA 7 comes after years in which fundamentally important provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act – the state’s main open government law – have been suspended or threatened during state fiscal crisis.
Under existing law, local governments receive reimbursement for the cost of fulfilling statutory requirements enacted by the Legislature, however when the voters approve such a law, no state reimbursement is necessary. Such would be the case under SCA 7.
Despite open government advocates arguments that there are no significant costs that should be reimbursable by the state for simply posting a single copy of an agenda in a publicly accessible location and reporting action taken in closed session, the Commission on State Mandates has reimbursed local agencies about $20 million annually.
Because of this long history of bloated and unjustifiable charges to the state, the Legislature and the Governor suspended the Brown Act for a period of time in 1991 and the public’s rights continue to be threatened every time there is a budget shortfall. Last year the Brown Act was not funded in the state budget, which has created confusion about whether or not public bodies currently need to follow the agenda posting and reporting laws.
“Californians have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing,” said Yee. “One only needs to look at corruption within the City of Bell to realize that the Brown Act should never be compromised. Our open meeting laws are too important to be made optional every time the state runs short of money. SCA 7 will ensure government agencies provide the public the information they deserve.”
In 2004, nearly 83 percent of voters approved Proposition 59 – the Constitutional Sunshine Amendment – which provided the public greater access to government documents. It is expected that SCA 7 would receive a similar overwhelming approval by the voters.
SCA 7 will next be considered by the Assembly Appropriations Committee before heading to the full Assembly.