Just in time for national Sunshine Week, a powerful open government initiative headed for the statewide ballot in November is getting the enthusiastic support of Californians Aware.  The California Legislature Transparency Act (CLTA) would allow the voters to amend both the state constitution and the statutory Government Code:

• to end last minute “gut and amend” maneuvers that keep the public and even lawmakers in the dark about proposals presented for a vote without any prior committee hearing;

• to require video recording and posting online—within 24 hours—of every legislative meeting that’s required to be held in public, and stored in a 20-year archive; and

• to give any individual the right to make and freely share their own audio and/or video records of public legislative meetings.

In addition, CalAware celebrates Sunshine Week by offering free copies of its Community Watchdog (see contents below), a guide to the laws allowing close scrutiny of local and state government agencies and their officials, their spending and their performance. Request a copy with an email to [email protected], specifying either MS Word docx format, with links to table of contents pages and full texts of appellate cases and statutes mentioned in the text, or in PDF format without those links.

Transparency in the Capitol: The Ballot Measure

CalAware urges public support for CLTA, which its board of directors personally endorsed after receiving a presentation on its merits at their annual meeting on March 5. In the words of Hold Politicians Accountable, the organization backing the measure funded by Charles T. Munger, Jr.:

The California Legislature Transparency Act would put a stop to legislation getting rammed through the process without public notice, and hold lawmakers accountable for serving the people who elect them.

THE PROBLEM

Special interests at the State Capitol routinely make last-minute changes to legislation to push through political favors without public comment or discussion. Complex legislation is drafted behind closed doors, dropped onto lawmakers’ desks, and put to an immediate vote before anyone can read it. This creates reckless legislation benefitting a few special interests at a cost to the public.

Also, although legislative meetings are supposed to be open to the public under the State Constitution, few people are able to attend those meetings in person. Many proceedings go completely unobserved by the public and press, often leaving no record of what was said. These off-the-record meetings only benefit the lobbyists paid to strike backroom deals while the public interest is left out of the process.

THE SOLUTION

This initiative would shine a light on the backroom deals and hold the politicians accountable by:

• Requiring the Legislature to post each bill online, in its final form, for at least 72 hours before voting on it. 
This 72-hour waiting period would give legislators time to review the legislation, hear from their constituents, and be held accountable for the laws they pass. This provision would end the practice of sneaking new legislation through the process without public comment or review. The initiative allows exceptions for cases of emergency when legislation is needed immediately.

• Requiring the Legislature to post online a complete video record of every legislative meeting that is supposed to be open to the public. 
The Legislature would be required to post this video within 24 hours, allowing citizens to watch legislative proceedings and keep informed. The video records would be kept online, freely available for public viewing, for at least 20 years, providing a valuable resource for the public, the press, and the academic community.

 

 

Transparency in State and Local Agencies and Courts: CalAware’s Watchdog Guide

Contents

Meetings of Local Government Bodies and the Brown Act

The Basics

What is the Ralph M. Brown Act?

What “legislative bodies” does the Brown Act apply to?

When is there a “meeting” covered by the Act?

Does the Act allow out-of-town meetings?

Can the meeting place be relocated for emergencies?

How must Brown Act bodies publicize their meetings?

What notice is required for meetings held on a regular schedule?

What if action is taken or discussion is undertaken on off-agenda items?

What are the rules for public notice of special meetings?

What are the rules for public notice of emergency meetings?

When can the one-hour delay after alerting the press be disregarded?

When must copies of meeting-related documents be available?

Must the body allow public comment at regular meetings?

When may public comment be denied?

Must the body allow public comment at special meetings?

May the body limit the time allowed for public comment?

Must the body permit public comment on any matter?

May the body forbid comment on certain matters by the public?

What topics may the body address in closed session?

What “personnel” discussions does the Act permit in closed session?

When must an employee be alerted to a closed session about him or her?

Besides personnel, what are the other most frequent closed sessions?

Are there limits on the pending litigation closed session?

Are there limits on a property negotiation closed session?

Are there limits on an employee bargaining closed session?

Must any disclosures be made before or after closed sessions?

When the Brown Act is violated, what court enforcement is available?

Can the plaintiff who wins a Brown Act case recover attorney’s fees?

Is a knowing and deliberate violation of the Brown Act a crime?

Beyond the Basics: What to Watch and Ask for

  1. “Ad Hoc” Committees
  2. Meetings off the Regular Schedule
  3. Special Meetings
  4. Emergency Meetings
  5. Background Records Distributed to the Body
  6. Serial Briefings
  7. Closed Sessions
  8. Litigation
  9. “Personnel”
  10. Employee Bargaining and Raises
  11. Real Property

Government Information and the Public Records Act

The Basics

What is the California Public Records Act?

Does the CPRA apply to federal records?

Does the CPRA apply to all records in state and local government?

Must I make my CPRA access request in writing?

Must I identify myself in making an access request?

Must I reveal my purpose in making an access request?

How well must I describe what I’m looking for

Can I require the agency to compile a list or write a report?

Must the agency help me make an effective request?

What can I be charged a fee for: Inspection? Copying?

How soon must my request get a response?

Is an exemption from disclosure a prohibition on access?

May the agency restrict access to certain favored members of the public?

If part of a record is exempt, may all of it be withheld?

Are draft documents exempt from disclosure as such?

Are litigation-related records exempt permanently?

What kind of information can be withheld to protect personal privacy?

Are the exact earnings of named government workers public or private?

Are complaints about and discipline of public employees confidential?

Which law enforcement information is exempt from disclosure?

Must I sign something or show credentials to get access?

Are the CPRA exemptions the only legal bases for withholding?

Can a record be withheld even if not expressly exempted by some law?

What is the deliberative process privilege?

Beyond the Basics: What to Watch and Ask for

  1. Money Issues
  2. Employment Contracts
  3. Loans
  4. Credit Cards and Expense Reimbursements
  5. Merchandise and Service Contracts; Leases
  6. Check or Warrant Registers
  7. Integrity Issues
  8. Economic Interests
  9. Political Contributors
  10. Ethics Training
  11. Performance Issues
  12. Litigation Claims and Settlements
  13. Audits and Grand Jury Reports
  14. State Auditor
  15. State Controller
e. Grand Juries

Records Preservation and Destruction

City Records

County Records

Community College District Records

School District Records

Meetings and Records of Local Court Administration

What kinds of administrative records are available under Rule 10.500?

What are the applicable exemptions from disclosure under the rule?

How do I make a request for court administrative records?

Will I be charged a fee for copies?

Finances, Performance and Integrity

Sample Brown Act Demand to Cease and Desist a Violation

Sample Brown Act Demand to Cure/Correct a Violation

Sample California Public Records Act Request