A bill up for its last policy committee hearing next week would permanently exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act the entire paper trail of most local agency bargaining with employee unions.  And only your messages to the committee members can stop it.

As provided in AB 1455 by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra, the information made secret would include records

that reveal a local 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 under that chapter.

Discussions by city councils, boards of supervisors and special district directors with their labor negotiators dealing with “represented” employees are already permitted in closed session by the Brown Act. But under the law governing local agency labor bargaining, “represented” employee groups entitled to have their proposed wages, hours and working conditions acted on in closed session with no public awareness include not only line employees but supervisors and upper management.

The result is that typically, local government employers need take a public vote, with a brief oral justification, only with respect to the agency’s chief executive, his or her deputies and department heads, or others employed by specific contracts.

As the law now stands, a request for the documentation of a local body’s decision to approve employee pay or benefits would probably be met with denial based on the CPRA’s section 6255 balancing test—i.e. that public disclosure would make it impossible for the council or board to serve the public interest by bargaining effectively with employee demands. That argument would likely be convincing to a court, at least if the request were made during active negotiations. On the other hand, once the pay and benefit increases were approved, a court might well conclude that the public interest in learning how those decisions were reached justified disclosure of the records detailing that process.

That door would be slammed by AB 1455.

Its supporters—all public employee unions— argue that the bill would simply give local bodies the same exemption from disclosure enjoyed by state bargaining agents in the CPRA, in Government Code section 6254 (p). What they fail to mention is that for state agency employers, the Ralph Dills Act requires a transparency procedure under which, prior to negotiating a new contract, state negotiators and the union representing the bargaining unit release initial bargaining proposals in a public meeting, called a “sunshine” meeting. The Dills Act requires such meetings to provide the public with an opportunity to become familiar with the proposals and to comment on them. If any substantive item is introduced in the process after that, within 48 hours “such proposals and the position, if any, taken thereon by the representatives of the employer, shall be a public record.” Government Code section 3523.

The same sunshine rules govern school and community college district employee bargaining, but provide yet a further safeguard:

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. Government Code section 3547.5.

Californians Aware appears to be the sole source of opposition to AB 1455. It’s likely that only editorials and messages from residents of the districts of the author and Senate Judiciary Committee members can stop it. The bill will get its final policy hearing in that committee next Tuesday, July 18.

The relevant legislative staff to pass on a message of opposition to the elected members are the following. Be sure to mention if you live in the member’s district.

[email protected]      Office of Sen. Raul Bocanegra, (D-San Fernando), author

[email protected]        Office of Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, (D-Santa Barbara), chair, Senate Judiciary Committee

[email protected]         Office of Sen. John Moorlach, (R-Costa Mesa), vice chair, Senate Judiciary Committee

[email protected]        Office of Sen. Joel Anderson, (R-Alpine), member, Senate Judiciary Committee

[email protected]        Office of Sen. Robert Herzberg, (D-Van Nuys) member, Senate Judiciary Committee

[email protected]          Office of Sen. William Monning, (D-Carmel), member, Senate Judiciary Committee

[email protected]         Office of Sen. Henry Stern, (D-Agoura Hills), member, Senate Judiciary Committee

[email protected]          Office of Sen. Bob Wieckowski, (D-Fremont), member, Senate Judiciary Committee