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New Legislation Would Carve Out Additional Exemptions for Information from California Open Records Laws

Bill would exempt non-voluntary information submitted to Cal OES and certain whistleblower complaints filed with Fish & Wildlife

By Matthew Keys, February 24, 2020 12:53 pm

Last year, the California Public Records Act was amended more than three dozen times through numerous legislative bills.

 

New bills introduced this month would carve out additional exemptions for information currently considered public under the state’s open records law.

The most-significant bill, if enacted, would prevent local law enforcement agencies from disclosing the names of victims if those individuals were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense if records containing that information were requested by members of the public under the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

Current law already prohibits law enforcement agencies from disclosing the names of victims if they are minors, but only if the victim or their parents or guardians request the name to be withheld. Assembly Bill 2569 by Assemblyman Timothy S. Grayson (D-Concord), would remove this discretion from victims and parents by mandating police conceal the name of alleged victims, though nothing says the victim or their parents can’t identify themselves publicly if they want.

The measure would further require officers to specify if the victim is a minor on crime reports and identify them only as John Doe or Jane Doe in all investigatory records, including court filings, connected to the alleged crime.

Two other measures — Assembly Bill 2607 and Assembly Bill 2676 — would place further restrictions on the type of information disclosable through the CPRA.

A.B. 2607 by Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to create a new office and position that would oversee complaints submitted to the agency. As part of that process, the newly-formed Office of the Ombudsman would allow information in complaints submitted to the agency to be exempt from public disclosure.

A.B. 2676 by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), would expand on a current exemption that allows the Governor’s Office of Emergency Service (OES) to withhold records related to critical infrastructure from disclosure if that information is voluntarily submitted to an agency. The measure would remove the word “voluntary,” exempting information that is provided to OES as part of a court proceeding, hearing or other event.

The three bills were first highlighted by the California News Publishers Association (CNPA) through their “Legislative Bulletin” blog. The CNPA, a trade organization comprised of newspapers and other media outlets, took no position on the three measures other than to say they were “of particular interest to newspapers.” In the past, the CNPA has come out against proposed legislation that would further restrict public disclosure of information under the CPRA.

The measures were introduced within days of a deadline for new bills to be filed for the 2020 legislative session. All three are expected to head to various committees for hearings.

The measures come as a state Democratic lawmaker introduced a bill that would help clean up various parts of the CPRA by streamlining numerous amendments and exemptions to the open records law.

Last week, Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Alhambra) introduced Assembly Bill 2138, which would move the CPRA from California Government Code 6250 to Government Code 7920. The move would allow lawmakers to “reorganize” the CPRA by incorporating numerous amendments and exemptions that have been codified over several years, which supporters say could help increase the legibility of the law. Last year, the CPRA was amended more than three dozen times through numerous legislative bills.

The California Law Revision Commission, an independent think tank, was commissioned to help clean up the CPRA ahead of its potential move to Government Code 7920.

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