Monday Morning Quarterbacking the CPRA Debate

There is a great deal of angst among the press regarding a provision in AB 76, a budget trailer bill that establishes certain procedural activities associated with the California Public Records Act (CPRA) as “best practices” and require a local agency that determines that it will not follow these practices to make a public announcement of that fact at its next regularly scheduled public meeting. Over the past few days, newspapers and the Twitterverse have been rallying to “Save the CPRA” from a “gut” and “evisceration” from this “11th hour” act supported by the “secrecy lobby.” It is regrettable that so many were unaware of this matter prior to last week’s action on the budget and trailer bills; perhaps it may be helpful to outline the events leading up to the passage of AB 76.

2002: Los Angeles County files a test claim with the Commission on State Mandates, asserting that new duties associated with the CPRA required by AB 1014 (Papan, 2001), AB 2799 (Shelley, 2000), AB 1962 (Hollingsworth, 2002), and AB 2937 (Shelley, 2002) have created a new program or higher level of service and the costs for which Los Angeles County must be reimbursed.

The Commission on State Mandates commences its work to determine whether these requirements are subject to reimbursement. (Note that the Commission’s work continues even now; there is a hearing scheduled on Friday, July 26, 2013 to discuss whether special districts should be included as an agency required to comply with the CPRA.)

Local agencies follow the law and comply with the new provisions of the CPRA and await the outcome of the Commission’s process.

January 2013: Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes a proposal to suspend five yet-to-be-finalized state mandates, including the CPRA, as well as tuberculosis control, voter ID procedures, local agency ethics training, and interagency child abuse and neglect investigation reports. Suspension essentially means that local agencies may comply with the statutory provisions associated with the mandate at their own option and at their own cost. This is the first time that mandates that have not been finalized through the Commission process were slated for suspension.

February 2013: The Legislative Analyst’s Office proposes an alternative to the Governor’s proposal that includes recasting the provisions of the CPRA as best practices and requiring local agencies to publicly state that they will not.

April 2013: Senate Budget Subcommittee #4 meets to consider the budget for the Commission on State Mandates, including the Administration’s proposal to suspend the CPRA mandate and the LAO alternative. The Subcommittee held these items open, deferring a decision until after the May Revision.

May 2013: Assembly Budget Subcommittee #4 meets to consider the budget for the Commission on State Mandates, including the Administration’s proposal to suspend the CPRA mandate and the LAO alternative. The Subcommittee held these items open. At a later meeting, the Subcommittee rejects the Governor’s proposal to suspend the CPRA.

Senate Budget Subcommittee takes action to suspend the CPRA.

The CPRA mandate issue is now before the Budget Conference Committee.

June 2013: After leaving the item open during its first pass, the Budget Conference Committee adopts the LAO alternative and closes out. The language is amended into AB 76 and SB 71.

AB 76 is approved by the Senate and Assembly and sent to the Governor for his consideration.

Later, all hell breaks loose.

I guess writing this all out is therapeutic for me, but I hope that it serves to remind people that paying attention to the budget process is important and that seemingly arcane matters of state policy can become meaningful in relatively short order. I trust that had the public outcry that has taken place over the past few days taken place in May, we would have all been able to focus our attention on other things, as the CPRA suspension and/or modification would never have made it to the Conference Committee.

It also points to the universally derided and incomprehensible system we have in place to adjudicate and meet the state’s constitutional obligation to reimburse local agencies for mandated costs. The bills that constitute the CPRA mandate were passed in 2000, 2001, and 2002. I’ve personally given birth to three human beings in less time than it has taken to adjudicate these mandates that all parties recognized imposed new costs and higher levels of service on local agencies. We should do better.

Regarding the CPRA change, one interested observer noted that this is about money, not policy. He’s right, except that the policy and the money shouldn’t be so disconnected that intelligent, attentive stakeholders can’t keep up. Because if they can’t, how are regular Californians supposed to?

About: Jean Kinney Hurst:
Jean Kinney Hurst is CSAC's Legislative Representative for Revenue and Taxation. She can be reached at jhurst.at.counties.org.

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