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Legislators look at new sunshine amendment draft

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Legislators look at new sunshine amendment draft

  • California freedom of information advocates are trying again to gain passage of a state constitutional amendment making government records and meetings open, but they are seeking revisions to ensure passage.

Feb. 7, 2003 — The California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California First Amendment Coalition have drafted a broader, shorter version of a state constitutional sunshine amendment that would give citizens of the state a constitutional right to government access. The draft is being presented as an alternative to a bill introduced in December that media advocates say is too similar to a bill that was defeated in the last session.

Their draft would put the burden of proof on government officials to explain why records should not be disclosed, rather than requiring the requestor to demonstrate why access should be granted, as the current law has been interpreted.

The current bill as it was introduced in December calls access to information a “fundamental and necessary right of every person.”

The new draft is more specific, stating that people have a right of access to information about their government, including records of meetings and the writings that come as a result. The draft states that access should be granted unless it would harm a police investigation or be detrimental to the public interest.

The draft language also states that all statutes, past or present, created to protect this right of access must be interpreted broadly while statutes that limit access are to be interpreted narrowly, and must include a statement identifying the interest being protected and why that protection is necessary.

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) in December introduced the latest constitutional amendment and has been discussing changes to it with the open government groups. CNPA reported that Attorney General Bill Lockyer will support changes in the draft, a factor CNPA hopes will neutralize opposition.

A sunshine amendment introduced last year passed the senate but failed in the assembly. To emphasize its importance Burton introduced his Sunshine Amendment, identical to last year’s amendment, as the legislature convened.

CNPA and Burton have started to circulate the proposed language to some of last year’s opponents, including the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, peace officer employee agencies and business communities. They hope to gain more support for the amendment.

Last year’s version faced opposition not just from the Assembly’s Republican caucus but from Democrats as well. Some legislators feared the open meetings regulations could allow political enemies access to important information. The support of Lockyer could persuade them to vote differently this time around. The amendment will have to go before voters on a statewide ballot before it can be adopted.

(SCA-1) KD

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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