PUBLIC INFORMATION, WHISTLEBLOWERS — Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has announced introduction of measures to reform public disclosure practices in California’s higher education systems by addressing recent public records and whistleblower controversies at the California State University and University of California, respectively.

SB 218 would update the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to include auxiliary organizations that receive public funds or perform government functions on state campuses.  The bill is a result of denied public records requests of auxiliary organizations operating at Sacramento State and Fresno State Universities.
     At Sacramento State, the campus bookstore denied a request regarding contractual provisions that determine textbook markup rates and the length of the managing contract.
     In 2001, the Fresno Bee newspaper was also denied information, specifically concerning the identity of individuals and companies that purchased luxury suites at the Save Mart Center arena at Fresno State.  The denial resulted in CSU v. Superior Court (McClatchy Company), in which the Court opined that although it recognized university auxiliaries ought to be covered by the CPRA and that its ruling was counter to the obvious legislative intent of the CPRA, the rewriting of the statute was a legislative responsibility.
     “Taxpayers and students deserve to know how their public universities are run,” said Yee.  “SB 218 will ensure that our higher education systems operate in the light of day and thus are held accountable.”

The bill would also apply to the auxiliary organizations at campuses of the community colleges and the University of California.

SB 219 would provide UC employees with the same whistleblower protections and legal standing as all other state employees.  The bill comes as result of a ruling last year by the California Supreme Court, which limited the legal rights of UC employees who were retaliated against because they reported wrongdoing.  The Court ruled that inadvertent language in the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act prevents UC employees from suing for damages, so long as the University itself reviews the complaints and rejects them in a timely fashion.
     “This is the classic case of the fox guarding the hen house,” said Yee.  “UC executives should not be judge and jury on whether or not they are liable for monetary claims.  This was not the intent of California’s whistleblower law.  In light of the Court’s ruling, it is imperative that we pass SB 219 and immediately correct this statute to protect UC workers from unfair retaliation for rightfully reporting waste, fraud, or abuse.”