Pacific Media Workers Guild is endorsing a measure on the June 2 statewide ballot that would shift the cost of sunshine-law compliance from the state to local and regional government agencies (cities, counties, school districts etc.).
Sponsored in the Legislature by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the measure (Proposition 42) would amend the California Constitution to mandate adherence to the Ralph M. Brown (open meeting) Act and the Public Records Act while ending the state’s responsibility to reimburse expenses stemming from that compliance.
The proposal by the PMWG’s Legislative/Political Committee to back it got a thumbs-up, by a split vote, at a joint meeting of the Local’s Executive Committee, Representative Assembly and general membership on April 26.
The vote continued a historical trend in which the PMWG has backed pro-sunshine legislation despite objections from journalist members who argue that taking positions on political issues breaches professional ethics.
As in the past, most of those voting on April 26, including some current and former journalists, agreed that an exception can and should be carved out for matters involving government transparency and freedom of speech/press, since those are essential tools for journalists.
An additional concern with Proposition 42 focuses on the state-to-local cost-shift aspect. A counter-argument that helped sway EC/RA/GM meeting participants is that some local entities exaggerate their sunshine-law compliance costs either to use state reimbursements as a profit device or as an excuse to dodge open-meeting or public-records requirements.
Proposition 42’s other supporters include the California Labor Federation; Californians Aware; the California Newspaper Publishers Association; the First Amendment Coalition; California Common Cause; the League of Women Voters of California; and the state Democratic and Republican parties.
Richard Knee chairs the PMWG Legislative/Political Committee. He is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.