In yet another twist in the beleaguered finishing of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, the state's newspaper trade group is up in arms about a pending bill it says would create a task force to assess the safety of the remaining construction, but shield its work from prying eyes.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association expressed its dismay this weekend about Senate Bill 110, particularly a clause that exempts the prospective "East Span, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Safety Review Task Force" from the Bagley-Keene Act -- which mandates that state agencies' work be conducted in the public eye -- and the California Public Records Act.

It's a hot subject in state government as of late, in light of a proposal by the Legislature and governor to pull state funding for local municipalities to comply with public-records requests. The maneuver was abandoned after generating a torrent of controversy from newspapers and advocacy groups across the political spectrum.

The bill was introduced in January and last amended in mid June. Now, the exemption for the Bay Bridge task force has prompted the CNPA to respond, in advance of the bill's review before an Assembly committee on Tuesday.

"It is through the (public records act) that journalists obtained the information about falsified inspection reports as well as defective bolts and reinforcement rods that was used in the investigative stories published by California newspapers alerting the public and the legislature to the safety hazards that the defects pose in the East Bay span," the organization, which represents the Bay Area News Group, said in a statement.

The group specifically called out bill sponsor State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, in its objection.

But DeSaulnier said the exemption is a routine procedural move dictated by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, which will receive a final report from the task force -- to be composed of seven handpicked experts -- which will then be subject to public-records laws.

"It all becomes public when they issue their report," DeSaulnier said in a telephone interview Sunday. "(The task force) is not taking any action, it's just a report."

DeSaulnier likened the task force to an extension of LAO staff conducting research, which is typically not available for public consumption until their work is finished.

"These aren't appointed or elected officials," DeSaulnier said. "They're only helping the LAO compile the report."

The exemption clause, DeSaulnier added, is "boilerplate language."

It's not the first time work to replace the eastern span has stirred controversy about transparency. In 2005, a state Senate bill to form an oversight committee to speed up and streamline the stumbling project fell under fire from similar watchdogs and advocates. Major recommendations by the committee would have been subject to approval by a larger body, much in the way the new task force would be under the auspices of the LAO.

The CNPA does not appear to be mollified by the government's assurances. It plans to oppose the bill "unless it is amended to remove the exemptions."

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.