Assembly committee approves bill to preserve public records
SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 23, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The California Secretary of State (“SOS”) Shirley Weber will remove cartoons and a document “retention” manual from the SOS website that encourages state agencies to destroy government documents to avoid legal liability under the state’s landmark law on public records. Download the Consumer Watchdog letter raising concerns about the threat to government transparency posed by the cartoons and the manual.
California News Publishers Association, First Amendment Coalition and Californians Aware have joined Consumer Watchdog in support of AB 2370 (Levine) to implement minimum standards for the preservation of public records. AB 2370 was passed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee yesterday by unanimous consent.
Read Wes Venteicher’s story on AB 2370 in the Sacramento bee.
See the cartoons on our website: https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/capitol-watchdog/cartoons-secretary-state-website-make-mockery-government-transparency-encourage
Although voters amended the Constitution in 2004 to guarantee access to public records, there is currently no minimum record retention period that applies to state agencies. Government records are routinely deleted or destroyed before the public or journalists have a chance to access them. To make matters worse, the cartoons on the secretary’s website encourage the destruction of records to avoid legal liability despite acknowledgment of the “reluctance” of agency staff to do so.
In response to Consumer Watchdog’s letter, the Secretary of State’s office said the cartoons and manual would be removed “shortly,” that the agency was in the process of updating the manual ahead of Consumer Watchdog’s letter. and that a revised manual should be published. In the coming months.
“These are not trivial questions,” wrote Consumer Watchdog. “As the California Supreme Court noted in emphasizing the importance of public records law, ‘Individuals must have access to government records. Such access helps control the arbitrary exercise of official power and the secrecy in the political process.'” (CBS, Inc. v. Block (1986) 42 Cal.3d 646, 651).
Consumer Watchdog discovered the cartoons and comments during his research with the Department of Insurance. recently revoked policy to automatically delete emails after 180 days. The email deletion program was originally proposed shortly after Consumer Watchdog searched for government documents. corruption scandal involving insurance companies that contributed to Commissioner Lara’s 2022 re-election campaign. Read The story of Jeff McDonald in the San Diego Union Grandstand.
As noted by Department of Insurance staff who contacted Consumer Watchdog with serious concerns about the timing and implementation of the email deletion program, such regular automated email purging is inappropriate for state agencies responsible for protecting the public. Many documents that ultimately prove essential to the agency’s law enforcement efforts may not seem important until years after their initial receipt. Yet the Secretary of State’s Archives Handbook and cartoons currently promote an “annual purge day” for all of the archives.
“Without a minimum record retention requirement, as proposed by AB 2370, calling your agency to regularly ‘purge’ emails and other records is a freebie for unscrupulous companies seeking to avoid proper oversight,” wrote Consumer Watchdog. AB 2370 would simply apply to state agencies the same minimum two-year retention period for public records that is already in place for California counties and cities.
The failure to keep public records is a problem that goes beyond the Department of Insurance.
- CalPERS began automatically deleting emails older than 60 days in 2011 after another government scandal.
- The California Environmental Protection Agency currently considers emails conveying “informal information” to be “transient,” which should be deleted after 90 days.
- The Medical Council destroys physician licensing records that are not necessary to establish qualifications for licensure at the time the physician’s license is issued.
- The DMV destroys records regarding a driver’s failure to establish insurance coverage following an accident after just 30 days.
- The Forestry Department destroys records regarding ownership of hazardous materials (Hazmat) upon expiration of the relevant contract, regardless of period, and records of fire safety inspections after one year.
To download Letter from Consumer Watchdog in support of AB 2370.
Visit Consumer Watchdog on the web at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org
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SOURCE Consumer Watchdog