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Yee Establishes Open Government Committee
March 25, 2010
Senate Approves Yee's Request for a Committee on Public Records and Open Meeting Laws
SACRAMENTO - The Senate Rules Committee has approved a request by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) to establish a Select Committee on California's Public Records and Open Meeting Laws, of which Yee will chair.
"I am looking forward to chairing this select committee and ensuring that state and local government agencies adhere and embrace our transparency laws," said Yee. "This committee will examine ways to increase public access to government documents and proceedings, and will protect tax dollars by fostering greater accountability of scarce public resources."
"While California may have some of the best open government laws, we do not have the best rates of compliance by public agencies," said Yee. "It is disheartening to see so many cases in which members of the public or media outlets are denied government records, especially at a time when it is so critical that tax dollars are spent wisely."
What others are saying:
"With this action right on the heels of Sunshine Week, the Legislature could not give better recognition to the reality that governmental transparency has now become a concern worthy of the continuing study and review of policy-makers at the highest level. From our perspective, the number one issue is the fact that the open meeting and public information laws can be enforced only by suing the government, which can resist in court for months or years using taxpayer funds to fight taxpayers." - Terry Francke, General Counsel for Californians Aware
"This is historic in the sense that Senator Yee will chair a committee that will chart the course to ensure that all Californians will have confidence in their government through greater transparency." - Willie Pelote, Assistant Director of Political Action for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
"The establishment of the Select Committee on California's Public Records and Open Meeting Law is a crucial and necessary step toward rebuilding the public's trust in our state institutions. The public should not have to sue to obtain public records from state agencies. For too long, the University of California has denied basic information related to its finances. The Committee needs to examine, more closely, UC's practice of denying the public information." - Lakesha Harrison, President of AFSCME Local 3299
"This is great news. There are dozens of issues the committee should explore, but perhaps none more important than the continuing barriers the public faces when it attempts to access electronically held public records and electronic communications of public officials." - Tom Newton, General Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association
"As an organization who has witnessed several violations of our state's open government laws, we applaud the establishment of this select committee and look forward to working with Senator Yee to help bring greater transparency to the University of California and other public agencies." - Geri Jenkins, Co-President of the California Nurses Association
This year, Yee is authoring five bills dealing with government sunshine. SB 330 would subject auxiliary organizations that perform government functions at the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges to the California Public Records Act (CPRA). SB 650 would provide legal protections to UC and CSU employees who report wrongdoing. SB 438 would extend free speech protections for students and employees at charter schools. SCA 21 would ensure that UC adheres to open government laws passed by the Legislature and JLAC 105 will require a state audit of the UC.
Yee is also the author of SB 786 (2009) to protect the right of individuals to enforce open government laws by prohibiting public entities from recovering attorney's fees; SB 1696 (2008) to ensure greater access to government contracts as well as audits and reviews of public agencies; SB 1370 (2008) to protect employees, including journalism advisors, who protect student speech rights; SB 190 (2007), the Higher Education Governance Accountability Act, to require all executive compensation packages at the UC and CSU to be voted on in an open session as well as to fully disclose the compensation package with accompanying rationale, allow the public to comment on such action items, and make public advisory group meetings that deal with compensation matters; and AB 2581 (2006) to make California the first state to specifically prohibit censorship of college student press, including school newspapers and broadcast journalism.
As a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Yee also co-authored the city's Sunshine Ordinance.
For his efforts to bring greater government transparency, last week Senator Yee was honored with the Sunshine Award by the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the James Madison Freedom of Information Award by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Yee is the past recipient of the Freedom of Information Award by the California Newspaper Publishers Association; Champion of Journalism Education Award by the California Journalism Education Coalition; Beacon Award by the First Amendment Coalition; and the Friend of Scholastic Journalism Award by the Journalism Education Association.
Contact: Adam J. Keigwin