Thanks to early action by CNPA, two bills which would have negatively affected the public’s access to public records have been amended ahead of their first hearings in committee. The bills were both well-intentioned, but flawed in their execution. As amended, the bills achieve their objective without harming the public’s right to access public records.
The first bill, AB 800 by Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D-Milpitas), would allow participants in the Safe at Home Program — the address confidentiality program for victims of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and human trafficking — to file and proceed in legal actions using a pseudonym. CNPA’s main concern with the bill was a provision which required the court records in such actions to be closed to public inspection unless the person seeking access could prove good cause. In response to CNPA’s concerns, the bill was amended so that the records are generally open to public access while still allowing the court to seal access to the records if there is a compelling reason to do so. With the amendments urged by CNPA, the bill was passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on consent.
AB 941 by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) is another bill which was motivated by a concern for the safety of victims of crime, but which would have harmed the public’s right to access public records. AB 941, as introduced, would have allowed victims of or witnesses to crime to request that their names be withheld from otherwise disclosable public records without providing a clear standard of the type of evidence needed to support that request. CNPA worked with staff from Assemblyman Cunningham’s office and the Assembly Public Safety Committee, and was successful in substantially narrowing the scope of the bill so that it: (1) applies only to certain gang crimes, (2) requires the victim or witness making the request to provide evidence that “an articulable threat exists that supports a conclusion that the disclosure of their name would endanger their safety,” and (3) ensures that the agency, rather than the victim or witness, is the party making the determination of whether disclosure of the name of the victim or witness would endanger their safety.