California Open-Government Measure Wins Big

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

California voters overwhelmingly approved a state Constitutional amendment guaranteeing public access to government meetings and documents.

By a margin of 83.1% to 16.9%, voters backed Proposition 59, an open-government measure that the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California First Amendment Foundation had tried and failed to get on the ballot for three consecutive years. The measure, popularly known as SCA-1, was strongly supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the words of the ballot proposal, the new amendment will provide a “right of public access to meetings of government bodies and writings of government officials.” In addition, it will require that “statutes and rules furthering public access shall be broadly construed, or narrowly construed if limiting access.”

And any future laws or rules that limit public access will have to include “findings justifying [the] necessity of those limitations,” according to the ballot language.

The open-access amendment, however, will not change any existing constitutional or statutory limitations on public access to certain meetings and documents, such as law-enforcement or prosecution records. The new amendment also cannot change rights to privacy, due process, and equal protection under the law.

The measure, passed unanimously by both houses of the legislature earlier this year, also exempts the legislature’s records and meetings.

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