Voters approved Tuesday a measure to give greater protection to California’s open meeting and public records laws by putting them in the state Constitution.
Born of a political faux pas and placed on the ballot without opposition, Proposition 42 had 61 percent support with 92 percent of precincts reporting.
The measure also requires local governments to pay the cost of complying with the records and meetings laws, an expense the state previously was required to pay.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown approved suspending about four dozen mandates on local governments so that the state wouldn’t have to make the reimbursements – including those for public records. In exchange, local governments could have decided whether to comply with open-information laws for which they weren’t paid.
That included some aspects of complying with public-records statutes, such as assisting with information searches, telling individuals whether records can be provided and requiring adequate notice of public meetings.
News outlets and watchdog groups roundly criticized the cost-cutting plan as sacrificing a pillar of government transparency for fiscal expediency.
Lawmakers quickly backed away from cutting public-record reimbursements for the local agencies and came up with Proposition 42. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated the change would save state government tens of millions of dollars each year by shifting those costs to local governments.
Legislators in the Assembly and the Senate voted a combined 115-0 to place the measure on the June 3 ballot.
Political contributions were similarly lopsided. Supporters, mostly unions, gave nearly $560,000 through late May in cash and non-monetary contributions to the Yes on 42 campaign.
There was no formal opposition to the measure, although the League of California Cities said it was “concerned” that shifting the costs of complying with public-records laws will hurt agencies that are already struggling to make their budgets.
“It has to be acknowledged that this could have an impact on them,” said Dan Carrigg, a league lobbyist.
It was not lost on local agencies that Proposition 42’s preamble extols government transparency, but that some aspects of the public records and open meeting laws don’t apply to the Senate and the Assembly.
“It doesn’t sit well with our members,” Carrigg said, “that the Legislature has exempted itself.”