SACRAMENTO (AP) — The California Senate on Monday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would undo previous changes that threatened to reduce access to local government documents.
Senators approved the measure, SB71, to replace legislation that was included as part of the state budget earlier this month. The previous bill made optional certain rules for how local agencies must respond to the California Public Records Act, including a requirement that agencies respond to requests within 10 days.
Making those rules optional was intended to avoid the mandate that the state reimburse local governments for their costs to respond to requests for public information. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that it could cost the state tens of millions of dollars a year to reimburse local governments and agencies.
Media outlets and open government advocates blasted the plan to loosen the rules for handling records requests, saying it would jeopardize transparency.
Democrats, who sought to reverse the records act changes after a swell of criticism, said the changes were intended to save money, not to limit access to public documents.
"We don't need a mandate for those cities and counties and public entities that will recognize these as best practices," Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said Monday. "We need a mandate for those few that may not."
The replacement measure includes the previous budget-related items but withdraws the changes to the public records provision. It also deletes a section related to ethics mandates and compensation for local officials.
Leno described the legislation as "a stop-gap measure" to ensure that local governments continue fulfilling records requests until a constitutional amendment can be put on the ballot mandating that local governments comply with the California Public Records Act at their own expense.
SB71 passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 28-11, with Republicans opposed, after clearing the Assembly last week. Brown, a Democrat, is expected to sign it.
Republicans said they remained opposed to other parts of the bill, including changes to domestic violence reporting laws and limit hiring tax credits for an Anaheim hockey arena.
"This takes a bill that was, in my estimation, a bad bill and makes it less bad," said Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who voted against the measure.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the Senate will address concerns about the domestic violence changes later this week.
Lawmakers also are expected to vote on the constitutional amendment on public records. That proposal, SCA3, is scheduled for committee votes on Tuesday and could be taken up by the full Senate as soon as Thursday.
Also on Monday, the governor signed a bill that would limit public access to some government meetings. The legislation, AB246, allows local agencies to hold private meetings with the governor to discuss public security threats.
The measure stemmed from a 2011 meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which met privately with Brown to discuss security issues related to realignment. Community groups said the closed-door meeting violated state law.