SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday that he is committed to keeping government transparent but wants to do so without costing the state money.
Brown made his first public comments about the California Public Records Act after lawmakers backtracked on a bill that would have made it optional, instead of mandatory, for local governments to comply with document requests.
The Democratic governor, who pushed for the bill, was asked if he felt he had made a mistake.
"I don't know that I want to further fuel your fire there," he said during a news conference after signing the state budget. "But I'm very strongly committed to open records. I'm also committed to localities shouldering their share of their burden, particularly one they have had for many, many decades."
Coincidentally, his comment came the same day he deleted transparency language from the state budget.
Brown eliminated a provision that would have required the Judicial Council, which administers the state court system, to adopt open meeting rules. Instead, the governor urged court administrators to provide "greater public access" to the judicial branch without using state funding.
The change was contained among nearly two dozen appropriations he struck from the budget as a way to reduce mandates that could saddle the state with future spending obligations.
Brown's finance director, Ana Matosantos, said the requirement for the Judicial Council was "not warranted at this time."
The governor on Thursday signed the main budget bill, AB110, ensuring the state has a spending plan in place for the new fiscal year starting next week. But lawmakers had to rework at least one budget-related bill following a media outcry.
The Assembly and Senate passed SB71 to replace AB76, which would have loosened requirements on how local governments handle requests for public information. The changes were initially approved as part of the state budget to save millions of dollars in reimbursement payments to those agencies for complying with the Public Records Act.
Brown signed SB71 and vetoed AB76 Thursday afternoon.
Lawmakers also proposed a constitutional amendment, SCA3, in the wake of the public records backlash. The amendment would affirm the public's right to inspect documents held by local governments and clarify that those agencies — not the state — should pay for making their records available.
The amendment could save state government millions of dollars a year and is pending before the Senate. It needs two-thirds support from both houses before being placed on a statewide ballot next year.
The California Newspaper Publishers Association, California Common Cause and the state chapter of the League of Women Voters support the amendment, saying it would clarify the right to access public documents already contained in the state constitution.