In 1968, the Legislature enacted the California Public Records Act (CPRA) proclaiming that “access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.” The CPRA generally provides residents the right to inspect records held by state and local public entities and receive copies of identifiable public records upon request. Some public records, such as those related to pending litigation or that contain private personnel information, are exempt from disclosure under the CPRA. Public entities are permitted to collect fees to cover the reasonable cost of duplicating public records.
Mandate Decision. As the CPRA preceded the 1975 operative date of mandate law, its core provisions are not a state-reimbursable mandate. However, on May 26, 2011, the Commission on State Mandates (CSM) determined that the following provisions of the CPRA, added after 1975, constituted state-reimbursable mandates.
Assistance in Seeking Records. Chapter 355, Statutes of 2001 (AB 1014, Papan), required public entities to assist members of the public who lack sufficient knowledge to identify and/or locate public records—including electronic records—that contain desired information.
Notification Requirements. Chapter 982, Statutes of 2000 (AB 2799, Shelley), imposed additional notification requirements on a public entity that receives a request for a copy of a public record. Chapter 982 requires a public entity, within ten days from receipt of a request, to notify the requestor of whether or not the records sought may be disclosed. The entity’s determination may extend beyond ten days under certain circumstances. If this occurs, the entity must notify the requestor in writing.
Employee Information. Chapter 463, Statutes of 1992 (AB 1040, Mays), mandated K-14 and county offices of education to remove home addresses and telephone numbers of employees from records that are available for inspection by members of the public.
The Governor’s budget proposes to suspend the CPRA mandate in 2013-14. Suspending this mandate would not affect local government obligations to comply with the provisions of CPRA that date from 1968, but would make local compliance with the provisions of Chapters 355, 463, and 982 (summarized above) optional in 2013-14. As the CSM has yet to issue a statewide cost estimate, the annual state cost of funding the CPRA mandate is uncertain. However, given the breadth of activities required by the CPRA mandate and the number of local governments affected, we estimate that annual state costs could reach the tens of millions of dollars.
The activities required by the CPRA mandate clearly represent best practices for local governments in carrying out the main goal of the CPRA—facilitating access to public records. As such, all local governments should strive to perform these activities. Nonetheless, it is not clear that the state should pay local governments’ costs to carry out the CPRA mandate provisions as the state has limited ability to ensure that local governments comply with these provisions and do so in a cost-effective manner. Instead, we believe decisions regarding whether and how to meet the CPRA mandate provisions and the responsibility of funding related activities should lie with local government officials and local residents—parties who have more control over local government compliance and costs. For this reason, we recommend the Legislature recast the CPRA mandate provisions as optional best practices—eliminating the state’s responsibility to reimburse local governments for these activities. Under our approach, each year a local government would be required to either: (1) comply with the best practices or (2) announce at its first regularly scheduled public meeting that the local government will not meet the best practices. This approach would facilitate discussions between local government officials and residents about the costs and benefits of improved public access to local government records.