Another fight about who pays for public disclosure

On the heels of last week’s California Public Records Act dustup, we’ve seen another sign that local governments don’t want to be told how, or foot the bills, to keep the public informed.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee today voted 7-0 to pass AB 1149 by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, which would require all local government agencies to notify their workers and constituents if their electronic data has been hacked, as the state and the private sector already are required to do.

But the bill’s opponents include the Association of California Healthcare Districts, California Association of Joint Powers Authorities, California Special Districts Association, California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities and the Urban Counties Caucus.

“AB 1149 infringes on local governments that have already adopted their own policies related to information breaches, and we are concerned about the potential cost implications for some cities of setting up the breach notifications outlined in the bill,” Natasha Karl, the League of California Cities’ legislative representative, said via e-mail today.

In other words, they don’t want to be told how – or be forced – to do it, or to pay for it. Campos contends that without such a law, there’s a patchwork of local policies – or no local policies at all – on disclosing such information leaks.

Nora Campos“People have the right to know if their personal information has been stolen so they can take appropriate steps to prevent further theft,” she said. “It’s outrageous that local governments are standing in the way of this. They say it would be too costly. But this is a public duty.”

Campos said her account was once hacked when she served on the San Jose City Council, and she was grateful for the alert she received so that she could contact her bank and credit card companies to warn them of any potential identity theft.

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said she understood local governments’ misgivings over potential costs, “but this just makes so much sense because local government does use this kind of information… A breach is a breach. It’s very important to have that protection.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, just last week were contending that few if any local governments would hesitate to foot their own bills for compliance with the California Public Records Act. Such entities would be too scared of the public’s wrath to ignore the law, they insisted as they pushed Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal that the state stop funding the law and major sections be reduced to recommended best practices if locals don’t want to pay for them.

Amid a public outcry, the lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown reversed course. The state will keep reimbursing local governments for compliance with the Public Records Act at least until voters can decide next year whether to enshrine the PRA in the state constitution – and in doing so require the locals to foot the bills themselves.

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.

  • ReilleyFam

    The Beginning. All these great ideas that have been paid for by the now-bankrupt State are going to have to be paid for by the locals. Jails, Welfare, Medical, PRAs, etc. The locals will have to double their current tax level at least to pay for it and the public is going to have to choose whether they want double taxes and “transparency” or lower taxes and less govt babysitting.

    Your choice = coming to a ballot near you soon.

  • JohnW


    Giving the media, good government activists and the general public access to public records is not “government baby sitting.” It’s one the primary methods by which we achieve at least some degree of accountability by our public officials. The assumption behind this comment seems to be that we would save money if we didn’t have the public records act. To the contrary, we would have more public corruption and financial mismanagement than we already have. As Justice Louis Brandeis famously stated, “sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

    I don’t think the cost should be shifted to local government. That just gives them more reason to find ways to avoid full compliance with the law.

  • Elwood

    Excuse me if I don’t have the decimal and the number of zeros quite accurate, but as I recall the cost of public access is about .02% of the state’s budget.

    Boy, I could sure use the money!

  • JohnW

    Your math skills are intact, Elwood. You get a gold star for today’s decimal assignment.

    Not sure what your point of view on this is when you comment about how you “could sure use the money.” Are you saying we should save the money and do without the Public Records Act? I didn’t think that was your position.

  • Elwood

    John, you are the last person on whom I thought sarcasm would be lost.

    In very round numbers the cost of public access is $20 million and there are 30 million people in CA.

    I’m still deciding what to do with my 67 cents.

  • Josh Richman

    @5 – Don’t overspend. California’s population is more like 38 million.

  • JohnW


    You have a point, Elwood. After my reading Justice Scalia’s lengthy dissent from the DOMA decision, you would think that I would know sarcasm when I see it.