I didn't realize we were making history when The Bee and Los Angeles Times joined forces to sue the state Assembly to force disclosure of documents detailing its spending.
We simply believe these documents are public under the Legislative Public Records Act.
First Amendment expert Karl Olson, a San Francisco attorney who frequently works with The Bee and other newspapers, told me he can't remember a similar lawsuit against the Legislature, or find any such published cases involving the media.
You'll remember that the confrontation over public information started as a political squabble: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez cut the budget of Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, saying Portantino was over budget. Portantino, who will have to furlough his entire staff to make budget, said he was being punished for casting the lone Democratic vote against this year's state budget.
As Bee reporter Jim Sanders was investigating the allegations, he along with other media and Portantino himself filed public records requests for current office budgets and spending projections for all Assembly members. When the Assembly refused to release the information, The Bee and Los Angeles Times filed suit.
A key aim of our watchdog reporting is to keep an eye on taxpayer money. I consider that to be part of The Bee's public service mission. It's made for interesting conversation over the years in my household because my husband is a longtime Assembly employee.
Bee journalists are in good company in our belief that government spending should be public information.
In a 2007 Contra Costa Newspapers case, in which the newspaper sued the city of Oakland for salary information and won, the California Supreme Court wrote that "public access makes it possible for members of the public to expose corruption, incompetence, inefficiency, prejudice and favoritism."
Think about those values of public access as this kerfuffle continues in the Legislature.
The California Legislature, like the court system, is governed by a different public records law than the governor, your city council or any other public agency.
As a result, the Legislature "controls information more tightly than local governments or other areas of state government," said Bee Political Editor Amy Chance, who has been covering the Capitol since 1986.
Sometimes that means reporters are refused information by the Legislature but can get that same information from other government agencies.
Chance recalled a 2001 Bee story reporting that the state Senate paid $117,000 to settle a harassment complaint filed by a female staff member. The Bee was tipped to the settlement and requested the documents, only to have Senate officials redact the name of the legislator involved. Only after going through the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing did we discover that the woman alleged she was transferred by the chief of staff for Majority Leader Richard Polanco "based on failure to respond to Polanco's advances."
Interestingly, while the Senate took care to protect Polanco, it had no problem identifying the woman who was the victim in this incident. It didn't bother to redact her name.
The Senate today might respond differently. Last week Senate officials told Sanders they'd like to work with him to provide the spending information reporters were denied in the Assembly.
Pérez, meanwhile, said only that he would convene a task force to consider updating the Assembly disclosure issues. But Assembly Republicans made clear on Thursday they think the information should be released, and individuals began releasing their own expenditures.
The Assembly may well need to update its disclosure procedures. But that's no substitute for prompt response as required by law when the public wants to know how politicians are spending our money.
As the Legislative Open Records Act states: "Access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business by the Legislature is a fundamental and necessary right of every citizen in this state."