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Governor again vetoes open government bills

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  1. Freedom of Information
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two bills this week that were designed to bring greater transparency and accountability to California's public colleges.…

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two bills this week that were designed to bring greater transparency and accountability to California’s public colleges. This is the latest in a string of actions Schwarzenegger has taken against increased transparency since assuming the governor’s office in 2003.

The first, S.B. 218, overwhelmingly passed the legislature and would have expanded California’s public records law to include organizations that contract with the state’s colleges. The second, S.B. 219, would have provided employees of the University of California system who report waste, fraud and abuse, with the same legal protections as other state employees.

“It would appear that his public commitment to transparency and accountability is only lip-service,” said Lillian Taiz, the president of the California Faculty Association, in a release by Sen. Leland Yee.

In 2004, Schwarzenegger vetoed two bills that would have required hospitals to provide their rates of hospital acquired infections to two state departments. In rejecting the bills, Schwarzenegger expressed concern that they imposed significant costs on hospitals and government offices. Sen. Jackie Speier, the sponsor of the bills, disagreed, saying the governor’s action “[was] an outrage to California consumers.”

More recently, the governor vetoed a 2006 bill that was designed to facilitate public records requests online and provide a sound alternative to litigation. Although the bill passed the California General Assembly unanimously, the governor decided it was “unduly burdensome.” 

The next year, Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have prohibited board members from using a series of private communications to decide on action taken at subsequent public meetings, calling it a “wrong solution . . . to a perceived defect.”

Schwarzenegger’s attitude towards public access isn’t limited to proposed legislation. In 2003, he required his employees to sign a confidentiality agreement to block “the constant efforts of the press, other media, and the public to learn of [his] personal and business affairs.” In 2007, the governor avoided fully disclosing payments of $1.7 million in nonprofit funds for private jets, hotel suites and support staff for his trips overseas.

Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a nonprofit open government group that had pushed the bill designed to facilitate online public records requests, has been disappointed by the governors’ vetoes in the area of public access.

“This was the first governor in California history who in campaigning for that office made an open government pledge as a commitment and priority if elected,” Francke said after the governor vetoed the bill.  “Here was a chance for him to do the right thing and finally deliver on his very conspicuous sunshine commitment, and he turns out to be no more enthusiastic about transparent government as any of his predecessors.”