California voters should welcome the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to guarantee that local governments follow the state's Public Records Act and the Brown Act, California's open-meeting law.
Some voters might be baffled by the need. We are certain many will say, "I thought they already had to do that." And they'd be right, up to a point.
But the outrageous state budget-related events of June demonstrated that when money's involved, nothing is sacred to the state Legislature -- including the public's right to know how its government, at all levels, is doing its job.
Local governments such as cities and counties are required to follow the Public Records Act, which compels them to make most government records available to the governed, and the Brown Act, which requires them, with some exceptions, to debate and vote on issues in public and to post agendas before public meetings. But the requirements fall under the law that requires the state to reimburse local governments for carrying out mandates from the state.
So, in June, to save about 0.02 percent of the state budget, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders decided to gut the Public Records Act by relieving local governments of some of the act's important requirements, so the state wouldn't have to reimburse them.
As we said at the time, it was a horrible idea.
Predictably, a public uproar ensued, and they backed down offering mea culpas. Basically the same thing had happened the year before with an attempt to weaken the Brown Act.
As a result of the public outrage, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, promised a constitutional amendment to require local governments to comply with the Public Records Act.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 3, authored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Steinberg passed the Legislature in the waning days of the recently concluded session and will appear on the June ballot. It would require local compliance with the Public Record and Brown acts without reimbursement from the state.
We're not prepared to endorse a ballot measure this early in the process because the original version of the enabling bill had some troublesome issues. We are waiting to study the final language, but we do plan to keep voters apprised of the issue because we think getting this right is absolutely vital in ensuring the necessary transparency in California's government.
After all, each level of government should pay its own costs for being transparent to its constituency. Openness should not be a mandate from above, but an inherent part of every level of democratic government.