Mark Leno responds to Public Records Act hubbub

The story that Tom Peele and I wrote late Friday afternoon about a budget trailer bill essentially letting local governments opt out of their obligations under the Public Records Act – which many say guts the law – drew a lot of righteous outrage over the weekend.

The general policy initially had been suggested by Gov. Jerry Brown, in his budget proposals. State Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee that authored the bill in question, didn’t get back to me Friday in time for the story’s deadline, but did return my call and leave me a message on Saturday afternoon. (I was off Monday, so I only just heard it this morning.) Here’s what Leno, D-San Francisco, said:

Mark Leno“The policy question before the Legislature was not in support or opposition to the Public Records Act – that is intact. Voters have supported the public records act, that has not changed. The policy question was is it a responsibility of the general fund – and the LAO has pegged the cost at tens of millions of dollars annually – to pay for local government to do what they should and the voters want them to do.

“We do not believe that there will be much change at all. Local government is not going to stop doing this, and if they do, they put themselves, local electeds will put themselves on record as a result of this bill to say ‘We won’t do this anymore.’ So if reporters or the public or anybody else has a problem with that, it’s with their local elected officials.

“Everyone supports the Public Records Act, it’s a question of is it a responsibility of the general fund. And then of course there’s the whole conversation of how the state has been abused by these mandates, locals billing us outrageous amounts for minimal time and expense – that’s a whole other question.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • JohnW

    This is incredible! I’m truly stunned that Jerry Brown is behind this.

    “We do not believe that there will be much change at all. Local government is not going to stop doing this…” “Everyone supports the Public Records Act.”

    Yeah, right!

    How much have BANG and other newspapers spent on lawsuits to force local governments to comply with the law?

    And don’t even get me started on the special districts that are about as transparent as the Kremlin and, in some cases, can simply pass through the rising costs of outrageously generous retiree pensions and health care by means of incessant large rate increases, with virtually no accountability.

    I do have some sympathy with the possibility that a local government or agency gets overwhelmed with requests and has to divert large amount of staff time to comply. But surely there are ways to address that without slamming the door in the face of the public’s right to know.

  • JohnW


    Is this part of the final budget bill passed by the legislature and signed by the governor?

  • Elwood

    “And then of course there’s the whole conversation of how the state has been abused by these mandates” –Mark Leno

    Yeah, my heart goes out to the poor abused state. Maybe Leno would like to talk about unfunded state mandates and the state strip mining resources and revenue from locals.

  • Josh Richman

    @2: It’s contained in budget trailer bill SB 71, which has not yet been signed by the governor. But seeing as how it was basically his idea, I seriously doubt he’ll veto it.

  • ReilleyFam


    What this is about is forcing the local govts to pay for their own stuff. When they get PRA requests, THEY need to pay for the costs to process it, not the State.

  • ReilleyFam

    This is way more than just PRA requests.

    You can see that the State is now going to require that the locals pay for everything themselves. The State doesnt have the funds. It started with the jails and the prison “realignment” and will continue with anything else the State can pass off onto the locals.

    Get ready to raise local taxes or slash local govt.

  • You and Tom did a great story, Josh.
    With all due respect to the senator, he is clearly disassociated with reality on this issue. I wonder if he’s ever even filed a CPRA? The changes to the Act the Democratic Leadership is proposing is nothing short of catastrophic — to the public and to the media and its ability to observe and report on government. One easy tweak to the Act would be to just cap the amount of reimbursements county, city, school and special districts seek from the state.
    But make no mistake — if the state doesn’t backstop this Act like it has, the California taxpayer’s right to know will be severely limited.
    The Brown Act was saved by Prop. 30 last year. It made the Brown Act a part of the state constitution and moved it out of the category of state-mandated local programs. We need to do the same for the CPRA. I get into some of these details in my column today at http://bit.ly/11lpNVa Thanks again.

  • Thomas Peele

    As someone who has filed more than 700 pra requests since January, I can say the senator is very, very wrong. The law barely worked before this happened. Governments stall and play games with requests all the time. Determinations within 10 days are rare. Legal reason is often faulty to the point of all you can do is laugh. I’ve recieved demands for “administrative fees,” been told I had to pass a criminal background check to see records, received PDFs when requesting electronic records, waited months until stories were long dead for basic douments because some pencil pusher knew how to stall. Compliance with the law in California is at best a C- and now there is to be no law. If you care about open government and a truly free watchdog press, please push on this. Leno, Brown and others have never filed a PRA request in their lives have enabled a dozen Bells.

  • JohnW

    Heard on the radio this afternoon that Brown and the legislature backed off on this and will put the old statute and funding back into the budget. But they also plan a ballot initiative that would have the local governments and special districts, rather than the state, pay the costs.

    I’d keep a sharp eye on this. The local governments are bound to seek loopholes.

  • Elwood

    @ 10

    Dedicated to Jerry Brown, the world’s fastest switcheroo man. Jerry can change directions on a dime. Witness his instantaneous Prop 13 turnaround and now this.

    “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” –Bob Dylan