California’s Legislative Open Records Act is a joke
Here’s the latest entry in an ongoing series: Why California’s Legislative Open Records Act is a joke.
Earlier this month, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, called in sick to the Assembly’s floor session to attend the L.A. Dodgers’ opening day. Initially, the presiding officer cited illness as the reason for his absence, an excuse that would have entitled Gomez to his taxpayer-funded per diem.
After CalNewsroom.com started poking around, the story suddenly changed.
“We submitted the wrong form letter,” John Scribner, Gomez’s chief of staff, offered as an explanation. “We corrected and filed the new letter to be away for personal business – NO per diem. Murphy’s Law can still reach up and bite us if we aren’t careful about form letters.”
In an attempt to verify that Gomez’s story and timeline checks out, we asked the State Assembly for all records pertaining to absent members on April 6. That request was REJECTED!
“The Legislative Open Records Act provides for a number of exemptions by which certain legislative records are not subject to mandatory production under the act, including ‘[correspondence of and to individual Members of the Legislature and their staff,'” wrote Debra Gravert, Chief Administrative Officer for the Assembly Committee on Rules. “To the extent any responsive records exist that fall within the foregoing exemption, those records will not be produced.”
State Legislature Secrecy: Deleted Websites, Staff Subpoenas & Pending Lawsuit
What good is the Legislative Open Records Act if documents pertaining to members’ attendance and paychecks are exempt from disclosure? It’s not as though state lawmakers and their staff members have a record beyond reproach.
Last year, the State Senate deleted the websites and online archives of three Democratic Senators – Leland Yee, Ron Calderon, and Rod Wright – who were facing criminal accusations. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that “federal prosecutors have served subpoenas on about 10 staff members in the California Legislature who may be called as witnesses in the August corruption trial of former state Sen. Ronald Calderon.”
And don’t forget the legislature is currently in court, after it refused to disclose the calendars of Yee and Calderon to a group of California newspapers.