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California voters add Sunshine Amendment to state constitution

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  1. Freedom of Information

    News Media Update         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information    

California voters add Sunshine Amendment to state constitution

  • A ballot measure adding freedom of information principles to California’s constitution was approved by 83 percent of voters.

Nov. 11, 2004 — A ballot measure adding freedom of information principles to California’s constitution passed Nov. 2, taking effect the next day.

Eighty-three percent of California voters endorsed Proposition 59, adding a right-to-know provision to the state constitution. California joins Florida, Louisiana, Montana, and New Hampshire in having freedom of information provisions in their constitutions.

One day after the amendment’s passage, the California First Amendment Coalition, a group of journalists and civic activists, cited Proposition 59 in asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for details about who he has met with and where he has traveled since taking office one year ago.

The Sunshine Amendment was first introduced three years ago by state Sens. John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat, and Bruce McPherson, a Santa Cruz Republican. City and county officials opposed the plan, but the measure finally arrived on the Nov. 2 ballot after unanimous passage by both houses of the Legislature earlier this year.

Although California already has open records and meetings laws on its books, recent tests of the statutes indicated the need for something stronger. In August, the Contra Costa Times reported that government agencies responded poorly to public records requests during a four-month audit of government agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Government officials were “flatly being ignorant of the law… or worse, having just a strong desire not to give it to” the requesters, Tom Newton, an attorney with the California Newspaper Publishers Association, told the Times .

The Sunshine Amendment aims to remove obstacles to freedom of information by establishing a presumption in favor of open records and meetings. The amendment also requires that any new law “that limits the right of access shall be adopted with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest.”

Before the election, California legislative analysts noted that Proposition 59 would slightly increase costs for government entities. Although an open records requester will pay copying costs, the government will absorb any incidental personnel costs stemming from compliance, the analysts found.

In its letter to Schwarzenegger, the First Amendment Coalition asked for his appointment calendars, schedules and meetings logs and “respectfully encourages the governor, in responding to this records request, to explain publicly that he is disclosing the asked-for records because of a change in the law created by Prop. 59.”

In 1991, then-Governor George Deukmejian refused to release similar records, a decision that the California Supreme Court later affirmed.

(Proposition 59) RL

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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