Bill to curb CPRA delays/violations is threatened: CNPA urges members to contact legislators and editorialize

This Friday, the Assembly Appropriations Committee will seal the fate of AB 1479, this year’s most ambitious freedom of information measure, which would create a penalty of up to $5,000 in the California Public Records Act that could be levied on agencies that fail to comply with their duties and responsibilities under the law.

Due to the secretive nature of the suspense file, and the uncertainty regarding whether AB 1479 will survive, CNPA is urging members in the next few days, to write about and editorialize in support of the measure. A list of committee members and their contact information is below.

At CNPA’s annual summit this past weekend, members discussed the prolific problems requesters face in timely access to records, with one member commenting that the CPRA is increasingly losing its utility for news organizations due to agencies across the state slowing and obfuscating the release of records on a regular basis.

This is disheartening for requesters and contrary to the constitutional mandate, approved by California voters in 2004, that presumes public access to all records created by state and local agencies. The importance of access hits on a fundamental underlying principle of democracy — that the people do not yield their sovereignty to the government without the right to check the exercise of power. Records are the best evidence of an agency’s actions, operations and motivations, and are essential for journalists who seek to fully cover the functioning of government.

Currently, the CPRA is a no-fault statute. AB 1479 would change that. Authored by Asssemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), AB 1479 would add a civil penalty for egregious violations of the CPRA. The measure would give requesters the ability to tell the court that the agency acted in bad faith, and would permit the courts to make findings on that issue, and essentially punish an agency for bad behavior. CNPA believes that this legal hammer would promote increased compliance with the act, inform constituents when their local agencies wrongfully violate the act, and hopefully encourage a statewide culture of access instead of confidentiality.

The Appropriations Committee has assessed the fiscal aspects of the bill and deemed the potential costs to be “unknown.” Without a hard number indicating the costs of the bill, which CNPA believes will be minimal, AB 1479 is at risk of being on suspense as the Legislature strategizes on which proposed laws should move forward based on the state’s budget.

CNPA urges members to email and call the speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) and also the Appropriations Committee in support of the bill.

Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), (916) 319-2063, (562) 529- 3250, anthony.rendon@asm.ca.gov

The Appropriations Committee is chaired by:

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (D-San Diego) (619) 338-8090, (916) 319-2080, lorena.gonzalezfletcher@asm.ca.gov

Other members of the committee are:

Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals), (559) 673-0501, (916) 319-2005, frank.bigelow@asm.ca.gov

Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), (310) 450-0041, (916) 319-2050, richard.bloom@asm.ca.gov

Raul Bocenegra (D-San Fernando), (818) 365-2464, (916) 319-2039, raul.bocenegra@asm.ca.gov

Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), (510) 286-1670, (916) 319-2018, rob.bonta@asm.ca.gov

William Brough (R-Dana Point), (949) 347-7301, (916) 319-2073, william.brough@asm.ca.gov

Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), (562) 692-5858, (916) 319-2057, ian.calderon@asm.ca.gov

Ed Chau (D-Arcadia), (323) 264-4949, (916) 319-2049, ed.chau@asm.ca.gov

Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), (209) 948-7479, (916) 319-2013,
susan.eggman@asm.ca.gov

Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield), (661) 395-2995, (916) 319-2034, vince.fong@asm.ca.gov

Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), (818) 558-3043, (916) 319-2043, laura.friedman@asm.ca.gov

James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), (530) 895-4217, (916) 319-2003, james.gallagher@asm.ca.gov

Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), (760) 347-2360, (916) 319-2056, eduardo.garcia@asm.ca.gov

Adam Gray (D-Merced), (209) 726-5465, (916) 319-2021, adam.gray@asm.ca.gov

Al Muratsuchi (D-Manhattan Beach), (310) 375-0691, (916) 319-2066, al.muratsuchi@asm.ca.gov

Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake), (760) 244-5277, (916) 319-2033, jay.obernolte@asm.ca.gov

Eloise Reyes (D-San Bernardino) (909) 381-3238, (916) 319-2047, eloise.reyes@asm.ca.gov

Here are the talking points to use when discussing AB 1479 with legislators:

Talking Points for AB 1479:

  • The California Public Records Act (CPRA) assures citizens the right to prompt access to government records so that the public can scrutinize its institutions in real time.
  • Newspapers rely on timely responses to their requests to inform readers about government activities and decisions.
  • Justice delayed is justice denied. That rings true when requesters seek information from public agencies and face months, or even years, of delay.
  • Any delay to a CPRA request potentially makes newsworthy information stale, which results in less informed members of the community who have a much more difficult time holding their elected representatives accountable.
  • AB 1479 adds an incentive for agencies to timely comply with CPRA requests by imposing a modest fine for failure to promptly produce records.
  • News organizations across the state have countless stories of delay. Share your own!
  • Many newspaper requesters, who seek clearly public information, are denied access to records despite the laws mandating disclosure. In one repetitive example, agencies (in a post-City of Bell world) withhold salary information or settlement agreements without legal justification. The courts and Legislature have long said this information is not confidential. An agency that withholds this information wrongfully would be liable for a fine under AB 1479.
  • AB 1479 seeks to combat a culture of confidentiality that seems to pervade California’s agencies, and instead encourages a culture that is reflexively transparent. Right now, there is no consequence if an agency fails to disclose records. Agencies are not admonished by the courts even when it is found that an agency clearly acts in bad faith. This bill would give courts the discretion to penalize an agency that obstructs a requester’s right to obtain information.
  • AB 1479 incentivizes agencies to comply with the CPRA quickly, giving real meaning to the “prompt” access standard in the law. The purpose of AB 1479 is to improve compliance with the act so that the promise of the CPRA is fulfilled.
  • This bill does not encourage nuisance lawsuits or frivolous litigation. It does not set unreasonable deadlines. AB 1479 retains the reasonableness and flexibility of the CPRA to ensure that an agency that complies with the spirit of the law will not be penalized.

Please send any editorials or responses from legislators to CNPA Legal Counsel Nikki Moore or call her at (916)-288-6006.