A couple months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature nearly gutted the California Public Records Act under the guise of saving taxpayer money. Today, the act remains intact, but it’s hardly as strong as it should be.
As part of their budget negotiations, Brown and company had considered legislation that would have significantly reduced funds that the state provides to cities and counties to offset the cost of fulfilling public records requests. But they abruptly changed course after critics blasted them for trying to undermine the public’s right to know.
In theory, the California Public Records Act upholds the “fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state” to examine documents and data that public officials maintain on our behalf. Officials are supposed to “promptly” provide access to information when taxpayers make a reasonable and specific request, but delays are common and fees can be burdensome and excessive.
By making taxpayers fight for documents and data that should be easily accessible, government agencies send the message that taxpayers can’t actually be trusted with the information.