A Better Approach on Public Right of Access Findings

The language is a good example of the better approach to take on these bills

California State Capitol. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Under the California Constitution, there is a general right of public access to the meetings of local public bodies and the writings of local public officials and local agencies. Nonetheless, in enacting statutes, the Legislature can impose a limitation on the public’s right of access to these meetings or writings. It does so by make a finding and declaration that the limitation is justified.

In prior legislation, a simply statement was often used to explain the need for imposing this limitation. More recently, I have seen bills in the California Legislature that provide not only a detailed finding, but also a good introduction into that finding by explaining the purpose of the finding itself. The following is an example of what I am describing:

The Legislature finds and declares that Section 4 of this act, which adds Section 22425 to the Vehicle Code, imposes a limitation on the public’s right of access to the meetings of public bodies or the writings of public officials and agencies within the meaning of Section 3 of Article I of the California Constitution. Pursuant to that constitutional provision, the Legislature makes the following findings to demonstrate the interest protected by this limitation and the need for protecting that interest:

To protect the privacy interests of persons who are issued notices of violation under a speed safety systems pilot program, the Legislature finds and declares that the photographic, video, or other visual or administrative records generated by the program shall be confidential, and shall be made available only to alleged violators and to governmental agencies solely for the purpose of enforcing these violations and assessing the impact of the use of speed safety systems, as required by this act.

At the end of the first paragraph, in boldface type that was added, is the more detailed introductory statement. This language demonstrates the Legislature’s understanding of the constitutional provision and the purpose for it, as well as the purpose for the forthcoming legislative finding. 

Thereafter, in the second paragraph, there is a thorough explanation of how the statutory provision is necessary and the legislative finding and declaration that justifies limitation on the public’s right of access. The above language is a good example of the better approach to take on these bills that deal with the public’s right to government writings and meetings. 

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Chris Micheli: Chris Micheli is a lobbyist with Aprea & Micheli, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law.
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