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Proposition 59 -- it's a matter of public knowledge

October 29, 2004

Lost among the statewide propositions concerning Indian gaming and

the greater national race for the presidency of the United States is

a little known proposed amendment to the state's Constitution known

as Proposition 59.

While it has been overshadowed by bigger and sexier campaigns, the

truth is this initiative strikes a blow against those who would deny

the people's right to know what government is doing.

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Proposition 59's passage would strengthen the Ralph M. Brown Act

and the California Public Records Act and make it the state

constitutional right for the public and journalists, acting on behalf

of the public, to access governmental meetings and governmental

documents.

No surprise here, we back Proposition 59 100%.

Too often, members of the public and the press are denied access

to government records, government institutions and government

meetings at the whim of mostly well-meaning but often misinformed

public officials.

We are then forced to ask for the access and then wait for the

anticipated denial.

If this proposition passes, that access will be constitutionally

protected, putting the onus on government agencies to explain more

precisely why the information is not public.

According to the state attorney general's summary, the measure

would:

* Provide right of public access to meetings of government bodies

and writings of government officials.

* Provide that statutes and rules furthering public access shall

be broadly construed, or narrowly construed if limiting public

access.

* Require future statutes and rules limiting access to contain

findings justifying necessity of those limitations.

* Preserve constitutional rights including rights of privacy, due

process, equal protection; expressly preserves existing

constitutional and statutory limitations restricting access to

certain meetings and records of government bodies and officials,

including law enforcement and prosecution records.

In fact, it was put on the ballot by a two-thirds vote of the

state Legislature, all though that very same Legislature is exempt

from much of the laws.

"The main reason it is needed is to prevent dilution of access

rights by the courts," said Peter Scheer, the executive director of

the California First Amendment Coalition, a Sacramento based public

access watchdog group. "Because it will be part of the constitution,

it can't be altered by judges but only another amendment. And access

rights have been watered down. This will put a stop to that."

Proposition 59 is supported up and down the state. Gov. Arnold

Schwarzenegger is in favor of it as is the California Newspaper

Publishers Association, the California First Amendment Coalition, the

League of Women Voters and city attorneys across the state.

Count us and we hope the voters among them.

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