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Governor vetoes bills to increase public access

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    News Media Update         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information    

Governor vetoes bills to increase public access

  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed bills at the end of September to open access to information about hospitals, the meat industry and state prisons

Oct. 12, 2004 — Information on hospital-infection rates, recalled meat and prison lock-downs in California will continue to be shielded from public view after bills encouraging access to such information were vetoed late last month.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also vetoed legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley to help protect government attorney whistle-blowers.

Sen. Jackie Speier sponsored a bill requiring hospitals to provide their rates of hospital-acquired infections to two state departments, according to a press release on her Web site.

“Public reporting of hospital-acquired infection data would give hospitals a much stronger incentive to reduce the rate of infections,” Speier said in a statement. “While many hospitals collect information about the rate of infections within their walls, the public currently has no access to what can often be ‘life-and-death’ information.”

In his veto message, Schwarzenegger wrote: “This bill imposes significant costs on hospitals and the [Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development]. Facing implementation of a number of well-intentioned but expensive mandates, many hospitals are not in a position to absorb the cost of a new program or reporting requirement.”

Speier and Sen. Michael Machado proposed requiring meat and poultry distributors and suppliers to notify the state Department of Health Services of all locations that have received tainted meat or poultry subject to a U.S. Department of Agriculture voluntary recall, according to the press release on Speier’s Web site.

“The governor’s veto ensures the continuation of food secrecy in California, and his action is an outrage to California consumers,” Speier said in her press release. “The USDA should never have coerced our state into signing a secrecy agreement about contaminated meat, and Californian officials should not be allowed to withhold vital information about these hazards from consumers.”

“This applies not just to mad cow disease, but to listeria, E coli or any potential harmful meat or poultry recall,” she added.

The governor wrote in his veto message that the bill’s reporting requirements conflict with an agreement between California and USDA.

The bill compromises California’s ability “to obtain timely information from the federal government which could weaken our ability to protect public health,” Schwarzenegger said.

Sen. Gloria Romero sponsored a bill requiring the Department of Corrections and Department of the Youth Authority to collect and post on their Web sites updated quarterly information about lock-downs lasting 15 days or more.

Schwarzenegger said in his veto message that posting this information could jeopardize the safety of correctional institutions.

“The identifying information contained in this bill could be used by gangs or other criminal elements to coordinate activities inside state correctional institutions,” he said. He earlier vetoed a bill that would have given journalists more access to prisoners in California.

Pavley’s whistle-blower bill would have authorized attorneys unable to refer improper governmental activity to higher authorities within government to refer the situation to an outside law enforcement agency under certain circumstances.

In the governor’s veto message, he described the bill as “well-intended” and applauded efforts to “expose wrongdoing within the government.”

“However, this bill would condone violations of the attorney-client privilege, which is the cornerstone of our legal system,” he said.

(S.B. 1487, S.B. 1585, S.B. 1676, S.B. 1164, and A.B. 2713) CB

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