There are two ways to look at a big report released this week by the Center for Public Integrity evaluating the accountability and transparency of each state’s government. Option One: California is awesome; only one state (Alaska) fared better in the rankings. Option Two: California is terrible; it scored failing grades in crucial categories like public access to information and judicial accountability.
Whichever view you take, with an overall grade of C-, it should be clear that California has room for improvement. That’s where San Diego lawmakers come in. I asked members of the state delegation, plus a couple government transparency advocates, for the one thing they’d like to see the state do to boost accountability and transparency.
Here are the responses I got:
Transparency for unelected, unaccountable state boards is imperative. We must restrict their abilities to raise fees, fines and taxes without a vote of the Legislature or the people. State boards must be held accountable to the public and their actions must be held under scrutiny. – Assemblywoman Marie Waldron
One accountability measure I have focused on as speaker of the Assembly is empowering committee chairs to use their inherent decision-making authority. Not only does that engender a more democratic process; it also makes those chairs more accountable to the members of their committees and to their constituents back home. I intend to continue to be an advocate for this style of leadership over a more top-down approach. As for transparency, I believe disclosure is more important than rules that feel good and sound good but have little impact. For example, I favor more timely public reporting of campaign contributions over limited bans on fundraising that don’t stop the influence of money. As long as the law keeps the floodgates open, information is the public’s more effective tool. – Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins
I believe one of the main issues of transparency at the state Capitol that concerns me is the amount of time we get to review certain bills before we must vote on them. There are certain times a bill will be amended at 10 a.m. and voted on at 2 p.m. I think it is a disservice to the voting public of California when legislators do not receive adequate time to appraise a bill. – Assemblyman Rocky Chavez
When it arrived to the Assembly floor, I managed Senate Bill 331 (Mendoza), which started an important conversation about full financial disclosure when private companies contract with state and local government. Thanks to Gov. Brown for signing SB 331 into law, we can continue to press for all the information we deserve about how taxpayer money is being spent by the private corporations that entrusted to perform public services. – Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez
Stop the last-minute replacing of language in legislation that does not allow for public review or a transparent process. – Assemblyman Brian Maienschein
The most significant step the Legislature could take toward greater transparency would be the elimination of the “gut-and-amend” tactic that gets used regularly in the closing days and hours of session. While this mechanism only impacts the working of the legislature, those who utilize it do a great disservice to citizens, since it deprives important issues of the healthy debate and dialogue necessary for the democratic process to flourish. – Assemblyman Brian Jones
In 2012, my bill, AB 2296, to increase transparency for California private unaccredited universities and colleges was approved. It required disclosure of an unaccredited school’s completion rates, job placement/license exam passage rates, and salary/wage information rates for graduates. I am looking into the possibility of introducing similar legislation next year to increase transparency for unaccredited law schools. Disclosure of completion rates, bar exam passage rates, and graduate employment rates in law-related fields would provide potential students with important information with which to evaluate an unaccredited law school. – Sen. Marty Block
There are two things on my wish list: One is, I’d love to see a body or a division created by the attorney general’s office that handles Public Records Act appeals.
No. 2, and this is totally pie in the sky, I would love to see a penalty for withholding records inappropriately, whether it’s for political purposes, retribution, etc. In New Mexico, for example, the penalty for withholding records improperly could be as much as $100 a day.
Another thing for the Legislature to look at, there’s a case before the California Supreme Court that’s going to determine whether communications from public officials’ personal devices/accounts should be made public. That is absolutely something the Legislature could address. And it’s an issue from Hillary Clinton all the way down to the local level.
And, of course, the Legislature could get a lot better at revealing its own records and streaming its hearings. – Dave Maass, independent journalist and investigative researcher for the Electronic Frontier Foundation
There is a specific piece of legislation that needs to be addressed, especially given that California got an “F” in public access to government information.
We need to protect public access to government information by requiring that: All documents, communications, and other writings, including emails and text messages, recorded in whatever medium, created or received in the course of conducting any City business by its appointed or elected officers, employees, departments, bodies or agents, are deemed to be used and controlled by the City for purposes of public disclosure. In addition, all such records shall be presumed open to the public unless such access is prohibited by state or federal law or by an ordinance, regulation or policy of the City Council or other City authority that is consistent with Section 216.1. These and other City records shall be retained for a minimum of two years.
The language above in italics was brought to the City Council as a ballot measure proposal more than once, but they rejected it. And there is no reason the state legislators could not fix this issue, but they do not seem inclined to do so. As you know, this issue is going to be heard at the California Supreme Court. – Donna Frye, president, Californians Aware
• Speaking of transparency, the state Fair Political Practices Commission “has shelved plans to discuss a controversial proposal that would make it easier for staff to remove behested payment filings and other documents from its website after seven years,” according to the Sacramento Bee.
Legislators Still Wary of SeaWorld
Some of the lawmakers who are eager to crack down on SeaWorld were not that impressed with the company’s news this week that it’s ending its traditional killer whale shows in San Diego in favor of a show that plays up the animals’ natural behavior in the wild.
When San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez first spoke out against SeaWorld last year, she was focused more on its human workers than its whale ones. But this week she said SeaWorld’s decision to end the current orca performances shows it can pivot and still make money. Here’s part of her Monday statement:
“Today’s acknowledgement by SeaWorld does not end our push to halt inhumane orca captivity and breeding practices, but it’s a step in the right direction. … Today’s news shows that the public can hold big corporations accountable when they merely defend offensive business practices as being vital to their bottom line. Clearly, SeaWorld can move away from being a giant circus that harms animal life and still have a viable business model.”
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who wrote last year’s bill that would have ended the performances and the company’s captive breeding program, cautiously applauded the move but said it’s still not enough:
Welcome news, if true, but no word on ending captive breeding or other issues. https://t.co/PDNb6Sbgel
— Richard Bloom (@RichardBloom) November 9, 2015
It seems confirmed that new Seaworld San Diego #blackfish show might be different experience for patrons. But not different for Orcas.
— Richard Bloom (@RichardBloom) November 13, 2015
The company’s announcement this week was in many ways motivated by the Coastal Commission’s move requiring SeaWorld to end its breeding program if it wanted a permit for new orca tanks. The Coastal Commission member who wrote that amendment spoke to the L.A. Times this week, fighting back against criticisms that the commission overstepped its bounds in trying to end whale breeding. One of her comments caught my eye:
“SeaWorld was clear about the longevity of these animals. They could enlarge this pool and have 30 or 40 years of display of these animals. That gives them time to adjust, using other mammals, porpoises and dolphins, and making it more of an amusement park.”
There are significant hurdles that would stand in the way of SeaWorld pivoting to become more like a traditional amusement park, which Lisa Halverstadt laid out last year. Among them: the requirement spelled out in the park’s lease with the city that 75 percent of the attractions contain an educational or conservation element. The park is also subject, with some exceptions, to the 30-foot coastal height limit, which could prohibit tall roller coasters.
Atkins-Block Race a Test for Dems
The battle between Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and state Sen. Marty Block will be a big test for the state Democratic Party, writes Dan Walters:
One of the Capitol’s unwritten rules is that legislative leaders must do everything in their power to protect their incumbents. And as Democratic clashes become more common, that rule will be repeatedly tested.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who’s supporting Block, thinks state Republicans are responding much better to their own intraparty battle.
Prop. 47 Results and Implementation Vary Widely Across the State
The ACLU was a big supporter of last year’s Prop. 47, which changed certain non-violent crimes into misdemeanors, among other things. Now, the group has a comprehensive report on how the measure is working one year in. The broad takeaway is that there are dramatic differences in how law enforcement agencies across the state have responded to – or in some cases, resisted – the measure.
The report shouts out Jan Goldsmith for creating a new alternative to jail: “In November 2014, San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith created the Community Court Program, which gives people the option to be held accountable through community service rather than a jail sentence.”
It also notes San Diego’s jail population shrank between September 2014 and March 2015.
• Reforming the state’s drug rehab system has been slow-going, two years after a CIR/CNN investigation found huge problems at taxpayer-funded rehab centers.
Golden State News
• Neel Kashkari, who ran for governor in 2014, is the new president of the Minneapolis Fed. (Wall Street Journal)
• State Sen. Connie M. Leyva announced plans to introduce a bill that would abolish the statute of limitations for rape. (L.A. Times)
• The latest GOP effort to derail high-speed rail: a ballot proposal that would redirect $8 billion from the project and put it toward water storage. (Associated Press)
• We’re No. 1 … in water-hogging! The Union-Tribune found a water hog in Rancho Santa Fe who has seemingly stolen the crown from The Wet Prince of Bel-Air.
• The 9th Circuit overturned a federal court ruling that found California’s death penalty unconstitutional. (Mercury-News)
• Your weekly Megaballot update. (L.A. Times)