The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, on a 5-2 party line split, approved denial of public access to all local government records documenting bargaining with employee unions for wages, benefits and conditions of employment—not just during negotiations but permanently.

AB 1455 by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-San Fernando) would, he told the committee, bring “parity” to local government employee bargaining with the rights already enjoyed by such organizations at the state level, where the California Public Records Act exempts from public disclosure records relating to collective bargaining “that reveal a state agency’s deliberative processes, impressions, evaluations, opinions, recommendations, meeting minutes, research, work products, theories, or strategy, or that provide instruction, advice, or training to employees who do not have full collective bargaining and representation rights …”

As noted in the opposition letter from Californians Aware, however, the asserted parity would be illusory because at the state level this disclosure exemption is balanced with a bargaining sequence providing transparency and due public participation to the process. As part of the Ralph Dills Act, governing state agency employee bargaining, Government Code section 3523 provides:

(a) All initial meet and confer proposals of recognized employee organizations shall be presented to the employer at a public meeting, and such proposals thereafter shall be a public record.

All initial meet and confer proposals or counterproposals of the employer shall be presented to the recognized employee organization at a public meeting, and such proposals or counterproposals thereafter shall be a public record.

(b) Except in cases of emergency as provided in subdivision (d), no meeting and conferring shall take place on any proposal subject to subdivision (a) until not less than seven consecutive days have elapsed to enable the public to become informed, and to publicly express itself regarding the proposals, as well as regarding other possible subjects of meeting and conferring and thereafter, the employer shall, in open meeting, hear public comment on all matters related to the meet and confer proposals.

(c) Forty-eight hours after any proposal which includes any substantive subject which has not first been presented as proposals for public reaction pursuant to this section is offered during any meeting and conferring session, such proposals and the position, if any, taken thereon by the representatives of the employer, shall be a public record.

(d) Subdivision (b) shall not apply when the employer determines that, due to an act of God, natural disaster, or other emergency or calamity affecting the state, and which is beyond the control of the employer or recognized employee organization, it must meet and confer and take action upon such a proposal immediately and without sufficient time for the public to become informed and to publicly express itself. In such cases the results of such meeting and conferring shall be made public as soon as reasonably possible.

There is no comparable requirement for public awareness and comment at the local level other than for school and community college districts, concerning which the California Supreme Court has observed, “”Thus, although the public is excluded from actual negotiating sessions . . . its opportunity to be fully informed and to express its views is preserved.” San Mateo City School District v. PERB, 33 Cal.3d 850, 864 (1983). Another transparency requirement for local public education employers is found in Education Code section 3547.5:

Before a public school employer enters into a written agreement with an exclusive representative covering matters within the scope of representation, the major provisions of the agreement, including, but not limited to, the costs that would be incurred by the public school employer under the agreement for the current and subsequent fiscal years, shall be disclosed at a public meeting of the public school employer in a format established for this purpose by the Superintendent of Public Instruction.