“fight” over Proposition 59 is a far cry from the hotly
contested casino gambling propositions on next Tuesday’s
The “fight” over Proposition 59 is a far cry from the hotly contested casino gambling propositions on next Tuesday’s ballot.

It is difficult to find a strong argument against the constitutional amendment to provide more public access to state and local government meetings and writings.

In fact, the ballot argument against Proposition 59, written by Mountain View attorney Gary Wesley, says the amendment should be stronger.

Wesley says it “does not go far enough in guaranteeing the people access to information and documents possessed by state and local government agencies.”

Proposition 59, or the “Sunshine Amendment” as it is called by its supporters, would write into the California Constitution the requirement that meetings and writings of government entities and officials remain open to public scrutiny.

The state constitution does not specifically address public access, although state laws have provided access to meetings – the Brown Act, the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, and the Grimsky-Burton Open Meeting Act – and government information – the California Public Records Act and the Legislative Open Records Act.

“Of course, in the unlikely event that the Legislature decides to repeal the Brown Act and Public Records Act and similar laws, this would mean that there would remain a fundamental constitutional right tending toward the same end that could not be repealed by anything less than a vote of the people,” said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote the public’s understanding and use of public forum law.

The amendment’s supporters say these laws have been eroded by other laws and by court decisions that favor hiding rather than disclosing information.

“Court decisions seem to stand the presumption of access on its head, and treat the need for secrecy with deference,” Francke said.

Proponents, including the California Newspaper Publishers Association, also say Proposition 59 will give these laws teeth because it would place the burden on any government entity that wants to withhold information requested by the public, instead of on the public making the request.

“Above all, the exemptions from disclosure or the exceptions for allowing closed meetings (will) be interpreted quite narrowly to serve the specific objectives they were created for, and not to be stretched for creative instances,” Francke said.

Any laws or government decisions, including existing ones, would need to be broadly interpreted if they would further access, or narrowly interpreted if they limit the right of access.

The right of Gilroy residents to know why the city did or did not approve a building permit would be better protected, for example, as would information about government officials’ salaries, and, perhaps, settlements like the one between the school district and a former teacher. Also, Francke said, government bodies may not use closed session as a time to discuss anything concerning, say, real property or personnel, simply because those items are listed on the meeting agenda.

Because there’s little to no opposition to Proposition 59, it’s laregely under the radar of city and school district officials. They don’t know of any immediate effect it would have on the policies or meetings.

Proposition 59 would not modify any existing privacy or due process rights. It also makes an exception for meetings and records of the Legislature. Information from peace officer personnel records will still be released or kept closed, based on a judge’s decision.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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