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Calif. State Senate Considers Public Records Amendment

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(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Tuesday will consider a swiftly drafted constitutional amendment that would affirm the public’s right to inspect documents held by local governments while clarifying who should pay for making them available.

The amendment was written in response to a media outcry over changes that loosened requirements on how local governments handle requests for public information. The changes were approved as part of the state budget as a way to save millions in reimbursement payments to those agencies.

Lawmakers later voted to reverse the changes and maintain the current rules for records requests, including a provision giving agencies 10 days to respond. The replacement bill passed the Senate on Monday, 28-11, after clearing the Assembly last week.

But without further action, the state remains potentially liable for ongoing costs accrued by cities, counties and school districts as they respond to requests for documents.

The proposed constitutional amendment, SCA3, mandates that local governments and agencies comply with the California Public Records Act. It also specifies that the state would not have to reimburse those governments for the cost of complying with the law, potentially saving state government millions of dollars annually.

“It will be the responsibility of cities to pay for their costs in providing access to public records. It will be the responsibility of counties to provide their services for access to public records, as it should be the cost and the responsibility of the state for access to our public records,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The proposal is expected to go before two Senate committees —Governance and Finance, and Appropriations — on Tuesday before a floor vote in that chamber Thursday.

The amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers. If approved, it would go on the statewide ballot in June 2014.

Democrats have moved quickly on the constitutional amendment, announcing the proposal last Wednesday amid calls for the governor to veto the Public Records Act changes previously sent to him by the Legislature. A draft of the amendment was released on Friday.

Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, on Monday called for lawmakers to “take a breath” and ensure that the amendment is written properly before voting on it.

“We seem to be jumping through a lot of hoops lately to short-circuit the public from actually being able to see the things we vote on, and I don’t think that’s a wise choice,” Huff said Monday.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that it could cost the state tens of millions of dollars a year to reimburse local governments and agencies for complying with document requests.

The costs stem from a May 2011 decision by the Commission on State Mandates, which determined that local agencies could seek state reimbursement for complying with certain provisions of the Public Records Act. The commission has not finished calculating reimbursement rates.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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