Images-14 PUBLIC FORUM LAW — For his efforts to bring greater government transparency and protection for speech and press rights, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) was honored with the Sunshine Award by the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and, a few days earlier. by the San Francisco SPJ chapter with the James Madison Freedom of Information Award.  A Madison Award also went to Californians Aware for its work as a nonprofit organization.

“I am honored to receive these awards from the Society of Professional Journalists,” said Yee.  “The role of journalists is vital to our democracy and to ensure our government is accountable to the people.”

The San Diego SJP said in announcing its award,

You say there are no more heroes in politics? You may change your thinking about elected officials after meeting Senator Leland Yee.  This Bay Area politician has authored a wide range of public interest legislation. For example, his bill punishing sex traffickers by seizing their assets has just cleared committee. He authored a bill last year which reformed how criminal background checks were done on adults involved with youth organizations.  He was responsible for another new law that addresses the deceptive business practice of tacking on charges for so called ‘free trial offers’ that aren’t free. 

In addition, there are the Senator’s exemplary efforts on behalf of the public’s right to access government information and his support in maintaining freedom of the press.   It was his bill that prohibits the censorship of student press and protects students from being disciplined for exercising their First Amendment rights.   And it’s been the Senator who has been on the forefront in demanding more transparency in the administration of the UC and Cal State University systems.

This year, Yee is authoring five bills dealing with government sunshine. 

  • SB 330 would subject auxiliary organizations that perform government functions at the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges to the California Public Records Act (CPRA); 
  • SB 650 would provide legal protections to UC and CSU employees who report wrongdoing; 
  • SB 438 would extend free speech protections for students and employees at charter schools; 
  • SCA 21 would ensure that UC adheres to open government laws passed by the Legislature; and
  • JLAC 105 would require a state audit of the UC.

As for past years, Yee is also the author of :

  • SB 786 (2009) to protect the right of individuals to enforce open government laws by prohibiting public entities from recovering attorney’s fees;
  • SB 1696 (2008) to ensure greater access to government contracts as well as audits and reviews of public agencies;
  • SB 1370 (2008) to protect employees, including journalism advisors, who protect student speech rights;
  • SB 190 (2007), the Higher Education Governance Accountability Act, to require all executive compensation packages at the UC and CSU to be voted on in an open session as well as to fully disclose the compensation package with accompanying rationale, allow the public to comment on such action items, and make public advisory group meetings that deal with compensation matters; and
  • AB 2581 (2006) to make California the first state to specifically prohibit censorship of college student press, including school newspapers and broadcast journalism.

At the San Francisco Madison Awards dinner, CalAware General Counsel Terry Francke noted that the recognition given his organization took note of the $86,000 plus sacrifice made by co-founder Richard McKee in being required to pay the attorney's fees of a school district that CalAware and McKee had unsuccessfully sued under the Brown Act, the Public Records Act and the First Amendment.  He pointed out that Senator Yee's SB 786 assured that that disastrous experience could not happen again.

Francke added that the organization's very existence reflected the sacrifices made by his wife, Muffy, in subsidizing establishment of a fully equipped office and a website, and by his daughter Emily, who as executive director had given six mostly unremunerated years of her life to its success.