A bill moving quickly through the Assembly would revive an optional remedy for wrongfully denied access to California state agencies’ records—administrative review and determination rather than litigation—that was first pursued in legislation sponsored by Californians Aware 13 years ago, but vetoed by a governor concerned about its impact on his office.
AB 289 by Assembly Member Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) would establish, within the California State Auditor’s Office, the California Public Records Act (CPRA) Ombudsperson, and would require the Auditor to appoint that official. The bill would require the ombudsperson to receive and investigate requests for review from the public who had been denied access to agency records, determine whether the denials complied with the CPRA, and issue written opinions of its determination, to be posted on the Internet.
The bill would require the ombudsperson, within 30 days from receipt of a request for review, to make its determination, and would require the ombudsperson to require the state agency to provide the public record if determined that it was improperly denied. Any state agency determined to have improperly denied a request would be required to reimburse the ombudsperson for its costs to investigate the request. The bill would require the ombudsperson to report to the legislature, on or before January 1, 2021, and annually thereafter, on the number of requests for review the ombudsperson had received in the prior year.
The bill would allow the ombudsperson “to provide written information, guidance, and advice to both public agencies and members of the public regarding the California Public Records Act, including by posting such information, guidance, and advice on its internet website.” Annual reports to the legislature would be required to include: