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Governor rejects penalties for open records law violations

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information         Oct 14, 1999    

Governor rejects penalties for open records law violations

  • A bill that would have allowed judges to impose penalties on public officials who had improperly denied open records requests was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis

In mid-October, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a bill that would have allowed judges to impose penalties against state officials who knowingly violated the state open records law.

The bill gave judges discretion to order public officials to pay plaintiffs who were victorious in open records lawsuits $100 for each day the records were denied. Sponsored by state Sen. Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto), the bill had been approved by the state Assembly by a 78-0 vote, and the state Senate had approved it by a 40-0 margin.

Under the current California Public Records Act, every state and local agency is required to make available upon request all public records not covered by an exemption. It allows agencies 10 days after a request to determine whether a record is covered by an exemption and may be denied, or whether it is not and must be released. As a last resort, the person seeking a record may challenge the denial in court.

The proposed change sought to create a financial incentive for public officials to release records. It also would have allowed a person who was denied a record to pursue an administrative appeal to the state attorney general, who then would have had 15 days to issue an opinion on whether the record should be released.

In a statement, Davis said he vetoed the measure because it would have set up a conflict of interest between the attorney general and state and local agencies. A new law requires state agencies and departments to seek legal representation only through the attorney general’s office. It would have been inappropriate, Davis explained, to have the attorney general’s office issue advisory opinions concerning open records requests and then to require that the agencies have the same office defend them in an open records lawsuit.

“This bill could result in uneven legal representation and increased use of costly outside counsel by the agency or department,” Davis said.

(S.B. 48)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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