California Constitutional Provision Awaits Vote…

The California Senate has unanimously approved a constitutional amendment authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to ensure public bodies follow requirements to post agendas and to disclose any actions taken.

If approved by two-thirds of the Assembly, Senate Constitutional Amendment 7 would go before voters during the next statewide ballot.

SCA 7 comes after years in which fundamentally important provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act – the state’s main open government law – have been suspended or threatened during state fiscal crisis, Mr. Yee says.

Under existing law, local governments receive reimbursement for the cost of fulfilling statutory requirements enacted by the Legislature, however when the voters approve such a law, no state reimbursement is necessary. Such would be the case under SCA 7.

Despite open government advocates arguments that there are no significant costs that should be reimbursable by the state for simply posting a single copy of an agenda in a publicly accessible location and reporting action taken in closed session, the Commission on State Mandates has reimbursed local agencies about $20 million annually.

Because of this long history of bloated and unjustifiable charges to the state, says Mr. Yee, the Legislature and the Governor suspended the Brown Act for a period of time in 1991 and the public’s rights continue to be threatened every time there is a budget shortfall.

Last year, the Brown Act was not funded in the state budget, which has created confusion about whether or not public bodies currently need to follow the agenda posting and reporting laws.

A Constitutional Access Provision Dies in North Carolina…

Sad news from Raleigh…

The House Rules Committee on Wednesday eclipsed an effort to write open government into the N.C. Constitution.

The proposal would have enshrined the right of people to inspect public records and attend public meetings in the N.C. Constitution. Any restrictions to those rights would have to be passed by a supermajority, or three-fifths, of both the House and the Senate.

Charles Broadwell, publisher of the Fayetteville Observer and president of the N.C. Press Association, asked Rules Committee members to support what has been dubbed the “Sunshine Amendment.”

“We do not see this as a press bill,” Broadwell said. “This is about the right of the people and open government.”

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, pleaded with committee members to support the proposal. “If you support open government, vote for the bill,” LaRoque said. “If you don’t support open government, don’t vote for the bill.”

Some committee members, however, questioned whether the proposal ought to be placed in the N.C. Constitution.

“I’m not a big fan of constitutional amendments,” said Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange. “It’s just not good public policy to put this in the constitution.”

They Have ‘Em Sweating in North Carolina!

A legislative proposal that would make access to government records and meetings a constitutional right is drawing fire from lobbyists for local governments.

Representatives of county commissioners, municipalities, school boards and sheriffs all testified against the bill during a hearing last week in a state House committee.

If approved, the bill would put an amendment to the state constitution on the fall 2012 ballot for voters across the state to consider.

“We need to do this so that open government truly is a right rather than a privilege,” said Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican who co-sponsored the bill.

“It’s pretty clear why these groups are against this: It’s because they’re in opposition to open government,” he said. “There’s just no way to debate this from their side because you have to ask them, ‘OK, what are you worried about? Are you trying to hide something that you shouldn’t?’ ”

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