OPEN GOVERNMENT — Stung by a unanimous stream of criticism from the state's top three
press and constitutional rights organizations, lawyers for the state
Attorney General's office said they have sidelined a bill aimed at
addressing abusers of the California Public Records Act while they give the issue further study, reports BAPolitix.com.
(D-Rialto) and had been officially sponsored by Attorney General Jerry
Brown. If enacted as written, the legislation would allow governmental
institutions and agencies to seek out court orders against individuals
whom they have deemed to be abusing or harassing the given institution
or agency through improper or "vexatious" records act requests.
Officials with the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the California First Amendment Coalition and Californians Aware
all filed protests against the proposed law, saying it would have a
chilling effect on the legal rights of Californians to monitor the
operations of local and statewide government. Those same officials
added that if a court finds the requester has made a request for an
improper purpose, it could limit or eliminate an agency's duty to
respond to requests in the future.
Deputy Attorney General Marc Le Forestier,
supervisor of the office's legislative affairs unit, said AB 520 has
been re-classified as a "two-year" cycle bill. Under that designation
the bill be kept in a legislative "holding" area and not acted upon.
The Attorney General's office and Carter, however, have until the end
of the year to decide whether to revive the legislation for
consideration in 2010 or let it die outright.
Le Forestier said previously that examples
of Record Act abuse does exists. He said in one case a man filed a
records act request that ended up with the agency involved making
copies of 20,000 documents. When the agency was ready to release the
documents the man never showed up to pick them up. Another case of
seeming abuse involved a person who made 174 separate requests of one
agency over the course of a year. He declined to name the requestors or
the agencies involved, citing attorney-client confidentiality.
Terry Francke, general counsel of CalAware, applauded the decision by the Attorney General's office and Carter.
"(We believe) that it was a wise second thought by the sponsor and the author," Francke said.
The Attorney General may find it hard to convince lawmakers of the need for the bill by referring to a survey of state agencies that can't be shared with them or the public.