CNPA bill to tweak CPRA up before holiday

CNPA expects few fireworks in next week’s Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing on SB 1244 which would change a single term in the California Public Records Act.

The spark behind the bill was a school district’s attempt to collect $500,000 against a public records requester because technically the school district was the “plaintiff,” and the requester was the defendant. Thus, the school district argued, it was entitled to the CPRA’s mandatory fee shifting provision which protects the “plaintiff.”

SB 1244, authored by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), changes the word “plaintiff” to “requester” which clarifies that the Legislature only intends for the mandatory fee shifting provision to protect a public records requester and not a party seeking to limit a requester’s rights.

The bill previously contained an additional provision that would prohibit an agency from suing a requester to retrieve “inadvertently disclosed” records. That provision was removed and along with it, so was all opposition to the bill.

The First Amendment Coalition argued at the Senate Judiciary hearing that legislators should reinstate the provision that would fix the very real concern that agencies would attempt to restrain publication of public records. The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California, which supports the bill, also argued that the provision should be reinstated.

Wieckowski recently told the Columbia Journalism Review that he was committed to continuing work on the broader free speech issues implicated by the school district’s case in future legislation.