Governor signs bills amending Public Records Act
CALIFORNIA–Three bills were recently signed into law that will affect the public’s access to government records.
Among the newly enacted provisions are several laws that will centralize the state’s scattered open records statutes, require two additional government agencies to establish written records access guidelines and shield from disclosure certain information regarding public officials and injured workers.
Senate Bill 143, which Gov. Pete Wilson signed in mid-September, requires the creation of a central index in the state code listing exemptions to the Public Records Act. The legislation also adds or refines definitions for several terms in the Act, such as “public agency.” The Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment are now among those state agencies that must establish written guidelines on access to records.
The legislation also declares that elected members or officers of a state agency are entitled to access to that agency’s public records on the same basis as any other person. The bill states that it is not to be construed as limiting the ability of members or officers to access records in the administration of their duties.
The California Newspaper Publishers Association reported that prior to its most recent amendment, the proposed legislation would have created “a reasonable right of access” to electronic copies of records. However, that language was removed after the governor threatened to veto the bill, according to the association.
Senate Bill 1430 was approved by the governor in mid-September. The bill amends the labor code to prohibit public access to information contained in Division of Worker’s Compensation records. Members of the press or public who are not parties to the worker’s compensation claim in question may not obtain “individually identifiable information” unless the requester provides identification and states the reason for the request. Residential addresses are deemed confidential, but may be released “for journalistic purposes.”
The data restricted is defined as information “concerning an injury or claim that is linked to a uniquely identifiable employee, employer, claims administrator or any other person or entity.” The California Newspaper Publishers Association reported that the legislation was proposed after injured workers in the San Diego area received solicitation letters from doctors who obtained names from court files.
The governor also signed into law legislation barring the posting of certain personal information of public officials on the Internet. Senate Bill 1386 prohibits any state or local agency from posting the home address or telephone numbers of any elected or appointed officials on the Internet without the individual’s written permission.
The bill also requires any state agency that gathers personal information via the Internet on users of state electronic databases or services to notify users that such information is being gathered. State agencies are prohibited from distributing or selling any electronically gathered personal information to any third party without the database user’s permission. (S.B. 143, S.B. 1430, S.B. 1386)