Editorials

June 21, 2013

EDITORIAL: Capitol leaders heard your message: Keep records open

It took way too long and was messy and embarrassing, but Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are on the right track in protecting and enhancing public assess to government records.

All of them support a state constitutional amendment that would make clear that local governments have a financial obligation to comply with sunshine laws. And all are willing to change a trailer bill that could have made the state Public Records Act optional for local agencies.

As part of a larger feud over paying for state mandates, Brown and both houses of the Legislature were preparing to cut $20 million in funding for local governments to comply with state public records laws. Brown and others have argued, rightly, that local governments shouldn't need a handout from Sacramento to engage in a fundamental act of government transparency.

Yet the governor's solution -- allowing local governments to opt out of complying with public records law -- could have prompted some cities and counties to do so. That's unacceptable, and in recent days, Californians have let Brown and legislative leaders know it.

Citizens throughout the state, as well as Republican lawmakers, deserve applause for rising up and speaking out against the trailer bill that would have allowed local governments to operate in secrecy.

We must also acknowledge Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, the lone Democrat to buck his party and vote against the trailer bill.

To his credit, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez was the first to back away from Brown's plans. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg initially balked but has come around. And to his credit, Steinberg says he will push for an amendment that will end this silly dispute and enshrine the open records act in the state Constitution. The governor says he will support it.

All in all, it's a welcome outcome that demonstrates that when the public roars, politicians sometimes actually listen.

But there's more work to be done in knocking out the Secrecy Lobby that runs Sacramento. We invite citizens to join many of California's newspapers in demanding that all legislative bills be in print for at least three days before voting.

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