The proposed Constitutional Sunshine Amendment (SCA 7) stated, “Access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right to every person in this State.” Unfortunately, the Californian Senate didn’t see access to information as a necessary right for everyone. Instead, the Senate dropped the amendment quietly, letting it die midnight, August 31. The proposed amendment might have been killed, but the issue is still extremely important to many Californians, which is why lobbyists and Senators will be reintroducing it next year as SCA 1.
“The issue is still alive, although the bill is dead,” stated California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Legal Counsel, Jim Ewert.
The proposed amendment to the California State Constitution would make government documents available for public viewing. It would put stricter guidelines on what is kept secret (i.e. secret agendas and private meetings) and keep businesses from meddling in government affairs without being printed and exposed.
It also recognizes the need to protect individual privacy, so it’s not going to open up information about everyday people just because that information is also in the hands of a government agency.
Finally, the proposed amendment permits information to be kept secret if it’s shown that disclosure would actually be harmful, for example, threatening national security if a particular document were to be released.
It is not too different from SB 48, which passed the Senate in 1999, and SB 2027, which passed in 2000, both of which were vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis.
The idea that the California public has a right to know what is going on in its government is no new idea. Our country was, in part, founded on John Adams’ belief that the people “have a right to know, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible divine right to the most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge.”
As another one of our founding fathers, James Madison, observed: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy.”
Public distrust in the government is epidemic, and it’s due in large part to the existing secrecy. It’s hard to imagine anyone opposing an amendment that would grant voters the right to know what the government is up to, but some powerful groups are.