Guild supports bills to strengthen government transparency and protect journalists from law enforcement harassment

Sunshine, First Amendment efforts

Guild officers have voted to support three California bills strengthening government transparency, to oppose a bill that would weaken it and to back a bill aimed at discouraging law enforcement officers from attacking or harassing journalists.

In addition, Paul Burton, who serves with Gloria La Riva and yours truly on the Guild Legislative and Political Committee, participated on an advisory board for Oakland’s task force studying ways to re-imagine public safety and improve police-community relations.

Below is a summary of the bills that the Guild is watching, with a hyperlink to each:

State SB 16 (Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley): Would mostly expand public disclosability of police-conduct/misconduct records. The Guild supports the bill.

State SB 98 (Mike McGuire, D-north coast): Would require that law enforcement officers allow journalists to enter closed areas and would prohibit officers from assaulting or otherwise preventing journalists from doing their work. The Guild supports the bill, which has also received thumbs-ups from The NewsGuild’s Los Angeles-based Local, the Media Guild of the West, and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

State SB 274 (Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont): Would strengthen California’s open-meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, by requiring local agencies with websites to email copies of or website links to meeting agendas or all documents in agenda packets upon request by members of the public. The Guild supports the bill.

State AB 268 (Jacqui Irwin, D-Camarillo): Would require courts, on request of “qualifying” family members, to seal autopsy reports and any evidence associated with examinations of persons killed due to crimes or when prosecutorial agencies have determined that all persons who could have been prosecuted for the crimes have died. The Guild opposes the bill, as do other sunshine-advocacy organizations. As noted by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, “Public access to autopsy reports and associated evidence ensures that coroners and medical examiners remain accountable to the public, and that mistakes or substandard investigations are not swept under the rug.”

State AB 339 (Alex Lee, D-Milpitas, and Cristina Garcia, D-Downey): Would strengthen the Brown Act by requiring that all public meetings include opportunity for all persons to attend via call-in or internet-based service option; that all meetings provide public with opportunity to comment on proposed legislation; and that translation services be provided for the 10 most-spoken foreign languages in California, with speaking-time limits doubled for persons speaking in foreign language to allow time for translation. The Guild supports the bill.

Oakland “Reimagining public safety”: Burton reports: City Council established task force “to rapidly reimagine and reconstruct the public safety system in Oakland by developing a recommendation for Council consideration to increase community safety through alternative responses to calls for assistance, and investments in programs that address the root causes of violence and crime (such as health services, housing, jobs, etc), with a goal of a 50% reduction in the OPD General Purpose Fund (GFP) budget allocation.” Among the task force’s recommendations is one to enact a crowd control policy, which would include provisions to protect the rights of media workers covering protests. An advisory board recommendation to train police officers to respect First Amendment rights of the press was not approved by the Task Force but could be enacted by the City Council when it considers the task force’s recommendations in May.

To our Nevada and Hawaii Brothers and Sisters: If there are any legislative, judicial or political matters in your state that merit the Guild’s attention, the Leg/Pol Committee would like to hear from you. Click here to e-mail committee Chair Richard Knee.

Richard Knee
Guild Legislative and Political Committee Chair



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Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.