CNPA continues charge to fine bad-actor agencies

In an effort to give teeth to the California Public Records Act, Asssemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) introduced AB 1479 to create a civil penalty to be levied against agencies that violate the CPRA.

Expectedly, agency advocates are stridently opposed to the measure. This week, however, an unexpected group joined their ranks as the California Professional Firefighters notified Asm. Bonta that the group is opposed to AB 1479 to the extent that it imposes civil penalties. They said their concerns relate to “the efforts of not so well intentioned individuals who flood local agencies with requests, demanding resources and attention better directed at providing essential services and tending to requests that serve the public good.”

This argument makes little sense.

First, it relies on the premise that some public records requests should be elevated above others, or that some individuals should be treated differently based on the purpose of their request. This notion is specifically rejected by the CPRA. Any request for which the CPRA mandates disclosure is one that should be answered, without regard to the purpose of the request or the identity of the requester.

Second, the firefighters’ argument expresses concern that the number of requests will increase. There is no evidence that will occur. Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that a discretionary fine will result in increased litigation. Very few CPRA cases are filed each year, despite the fact that the Act actually incentivizes litigation by mandating attorneys’ fees when an agency loses a case.

The bill was originally set to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, but has been postponed until July 11 to address a concern with another provision of the bill, which would require agencies to designate the persons or offices of an agency that are responsible for responding to CPRA requests. The author believes this point of contact information will increase accountability in the fulfilment of CPRA requests.

CNPA continues to advocate for the bill, and with the strongly influential firefighters group now opposed, staff encourages members to follow the measure and editorialize in support.