SPJ-NorCal Supports Proposition 42

The Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is calling on California voters to support an important transparency measure on the June 3 primary ballot: Proposition 42.

Proposition 42 will preserve citizens’—and journalists’—access to public information throughout California. The state has important laws in place which give citizens the right to access public documents and the right to attend government meetings (the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act, respectively). Last year, Governor Brown attempted to give local governments the right to suspend adherence to those laws when they felt too cash-strapped to provide such services.* Proposition 42 would amend the state constitution to require that public bodies in California comply with the CPRA and the Brown Act at all times.

Access to the workings of government should never be optional. As the constitution says, “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business.” The right of citizens to observe and review the workings of the individuals and the bodies who represent them is a cornerstone of democracy.

The issue is of particular importance to journalists. Whether they are pursuing records about abusive and predatory teachers, digging into salary data, or searching for revelatory documents about public work projects, the state’s journalists depend on the CPRA and the Brown Act to serve Californians every day. Any attempt to weaken these laws hobbles journalists’ ability to perform their jobs as watchdogs for their communities.

The public records and open meetings laws should never be subject to political or economic whim. As a result, the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is recommending that California voters support Proposition 42 on June 3.

* Specifically, Governor Brown’s budget wanted to suspend laws requiring the state to reimburse agencies for the cost of complying with both acts (even though Sacramento had in effect ceased making such payments years earlier). In exchange, Brown wanted to give local agencies the option not to comply with either of the laws, a proposal that was sharply criticized by news organizations and open government advocates.