Despite Prop 42, State Lawmakers Still Lack Transparency

Vaguely Transparent
| Montage by the author

California voters took a whack at a man made mostly of straw in the recent primary election and changed the state constitution to require local governments to comply with two state laws that local governments are already required to follow.

If that seems paradoxical -- the voters ordering local governments to do something they already have to do -- you have to understand that the state, under a separate constitutional amendment approved years ago, also by the voters, is required to reimburse local governments for the cost of fulfilling "state mandates."

The California Public Records Act and open meeting law are "state mandates" that the state decided -- when its finances were driven into a ditch by the Legislature -- that the state wasn't going to reimburse. The saving to Sacramento -- about $48 million a year -- wasn't a lot of money in a $100 billion state budget. Parceled out to cities and school districts, the loss was fiscally more meaningful.

Ironically, Proposition 42, which relieves the state of reimbursing cities, makes absolutely no change to the state's long-standing exemptions from the transparency requirements of the open meeting law. The Legislature has its own rules dealing with access to public documents.

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The full text of Proposition 42 -- which was in the part of the ballot guide few voters read -- made it clear that the Legislature isn't ready to open up its opaque decision making:

(Article 1, Section 3, Subdivision 6) Nothing in this subdivision repeals, nullifies, supersedes, or modifies protections for the confidentiality of proceedings and records of the Legislature, the Members of the Legislature, and its employees, committees, and caucuses provided by Section 7 of Article IV, state law, or legislative rules adopted in furtherance of those provisions; nor does it affect the scope of permitted discovery in judicial or administrative proceedings regarding deliberations of the Legislature, the Members of the Legislature, and its employees, committees, and caucuses. [Emphasis added]

The state's existing open meeting law and the Public Records Act compel access to government documents and transparency in the public's business, although activists on the right and the left -- along with traditional and new media outlets -- argue that it's not enough transparency.

But not enough transparency for whom? Apparently, it's too much for the state Legislature.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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