Proposition 59--Public Records, Open Meetings
Legislative Constitutional Amendment
from the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO)
This measure adds to the State Constitution the requirement that meetings
of public bodies and writings of public officials and agencies be open
to public scrutiny. The measure also requires that statutes or other types
of governmental decisions, including those already in effect, be broadly
interpreted to further the people's right to access government information.
The measure, however, still exempts some information from disclosure,
such as law enforcement records. Under the measure, future governmental
actions that limit the right of access would have to demonstrate the need
for that restriction.
The measure does not directly require any specific information to be
made available to the public. It does, however, create a constitutional
right for the public to access government information. As a result, a
government entity would have to demonstrate to a somewhat greater extent
than under current law why information requested by the public should
be kept private. Over time, this change could result in additional government
documents being available to the public.
The State Constitution generally does not address the public's access
to government information. California, however, has a number of state
statutes that provide for the public's access to government information,
including documents and meetings.
Access to Government Documents. There are two basic
laws that provide for the public's access to government documents:
- The California Public Records Act
establishes the right of every person to inspect and obtain copies of
state and local government documents. The act requires state and local
agencies to establish written guidelines for public access to documents
and to post these guidelines at their offices.
- The Legislative Open Records Act
provides that the public may inspect legislative records. The act also
requires legislative committees to maintain documents related to the
history of legislation.
Access to Government Meetings. There are several laws
that provide for the public's access to government meetings:
- The Ralph M. Brown Act governs
meetings of legislative bodies of local agencies. The act requires local
legislative bodies to provide public notice of agenda items and to hold
meetings in an open forum.
- The Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act
requires that meetings of state bodies be conducted openly and that
documents related to a subject of discussion at a public meeting be
made available for inspection.
- The Grunsky-Burton Open Meeting Act
requires that meetings of the Legislature be open to the public and
that all persons be allowed to attend the meetings.
Some Information Exempt From Disclosure. While these
laws provide for public access to a significant amount of information,
they also allow some information to be kept private. Many of the exclusions
are provided in the interest of protecting the privacy of members of the
public. For instance, medical testing records are exempt from disclosure.
Other exemptions are provided for legal and confidential matters. For
instance, governments are allowed to hold closed meetings when considering
personnel matters or conferring with legal counsel.
The LWV California has supported efforts to place this California "Sunshine
Amendment" on the ballot during the last two legislative sessions. During
that time the author, Senate President pro Tempore John Burton, and sponsors
(California First Amendment Coalition and California Newspaper Publishers
Association) worked with potential opponents to address concerns for protection
of law enforcement investigations, proprietary information disclosed to
government agencies for regulatory purposes, and privacy rights. These
negotiations led to widespread support and passage of SCA 1 (Resolution
Chapter 1, Statutes of 2004) in early 2004, placing Proposition 59 before
LWVUS position on the Citizen's Right to Know: "The League . . . believes
that governmental bodies must protect the citizen's right to know by giving
adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making
public records accessible."
LWVC position on Intergovernmental Relationships: "Active participation
by the public in state and local government, which entails the right and
responsibility to be informed, to be heard, and to be involved not only
in, but beyond elections; and which requires that officials make decisions
openly and that they provide broadly publicized, convenient opportunities
for participation by the public in the process."
- Prop. 59 makes government accountable. Citizens must know what the
government is doing and how decisions are made in order to make the
government work for us.
- Prop. 59 gives Californians a new civil right by putting into the
state constitution the requirement that government hold open meetings
and make public records accessible.
- California's current open government laws--such as the California
Public Records Act, the Ralph M. Brown Act, and the Bagley-Keene Open
Meetings Act--have been weakened, in some cases to the point of near
impotency, by a myriad of court decisions, broad administrative interpretations,
and "follow-up" legislation. Prop. 59 puts the right to open government
into the constitution, safeguarding these laws from actions that weaken
- Prop. 59 protects personal privacy and will allow reasonable exceptions
to the open government provisions of the constitution, if they are in
the public interest.
- Citizens should not have to prove to government officials why they
should have access to "public" records and procedures. Prop. 59 shifts
this burden, requiring government officials to prove their need for
Signing ballot arguments for
Signing ballot arguments against:
California State Senator
|There is no organized opposition to Proposition 59. Ballot
arguments in opposition were signed by Gary B. Wesley, Attorney at
Jacqueline Jacobberger, President
League of Women Voters of California
Peter Scheer, Executive Director
California First Amendment Coalition
Thomas W. Newton, General Counsel
California Newspaper Publishers Association
John Russo, City Attorney
City of Oakland
Marion Taylor, LWVC Legislation Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacqueline Jacobberger, LWVC President
Coalition for Open Government, www.yesonprop59.org
Note: Please adapt this sample letter to the editor to your own community, perhaps adding
local examples of the need for Prop. 59. Check your local paper's word
limit for published letters.
Proposition 59 gives the public and the press access to government information,
while at the same time preserving Californian's rights to privacy.
Everyone needs to know what government is doing. Why was a building permit
granted, or denied? Who is the Governor considering for appointment to
a vacancy on the County Board of Supervisors? Why was the superintendent
of the school district fired, and who is being considered as a replacement?
Who did the City Council talk to before awarding a no-bid contract?
I believe that governmental bodies must protect the citizen's right to
know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings,
and making public records accessible.
California's open government laws have been eroded by special interest
legislation, by courts putting the burden on the public to justify disclosure,
and by government officials who want to avoid scrutiny and keep secrets.
Proposition 59 puts open government into the state constitution. It will
make transparency a constitutional duty owed to the people to whom officials
Vote YES on Prop. 59 to make open government a constitutional right.
For more information on this proposition, go to Smart Voter's coverage.