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Tag Archive: California public records watch

California Crying Wolf About Cost of Public Records?

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Though all appears to be quiet on the public records front in California after a proposed rollback tucked into a budget deal brought an outpouring of criticism and several political dances, the events of last week still haunt the Golden State’s citizens. And rightly so. There are still many unanswered questions about why language weakening public records laws for California cities (by allowing them to “opt out” of records act compliance) was included as part of the budget process.

The budget bill itself cites that requiring local governments to follow those provisions (versus just giving them the option) has financial implications for the state. In 2011, the Commission on State Mandates decided that the state would reimburse local governments for certain public records costs. This decision came from a voter-approved initiative that required the state to repay local governments for state-mandated measures. Perhaps this is why the legislature thought that destabilizing local-records access could be a cost-saving measure, one that simply saved the state money by ensuring that fewer records-related reimbursements have to be paid.

Is the current law really costing the state money though?

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Who Should Pay for Public Records?

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Whose responsibility is it to pay for access to public records?

The story out of California this week about its public records process, and how the state reimburses local governments for complying with the state's public records act, raises some difficult questions about how states and municipalities interface on certain transparency-related issues. How does a state determine when it owes its local governments for being open to the public? And just how is such a cost calculated? There are many aspects of the public records process that could be given a financial value: staff time, servers, software, paper, ink … and although California seems poised to change its policy of reimbursing local governments for costs related to public records, many questions remain. However the costs of public records are counted, the dollars and cents don’t address whether a state should be financing its local agencies' participation in transparency laws.

The latest news out of a rollercoaster week in California is that the legislature and Governor have responded to the outcry about the proposed slashing of public records requirements for local governments and seem to be in agreement that they will instead maintain the requirements and related funding.

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