Calif. bill would bar contracts that make public data confidential

CALIFORNIA — The state Senate passed a bill Monday that wouldensure public access to information about government contracts.

The bill’s creation was prompted by a newspaper’s open-recordsrequest for an audit of the University of California at San Francisco; theuniversity denied the request, arguing that releasing the information wouldbreak the school’s contract with the outside firm that conducted theaudit.

S.B. 1696 would prohibit public agencies from entering into contracts thatwould make information currently public under California open-records lawsconfidential.

State Sen. Leland Yee is the bill’s main sponsor.

In January 2007 the San Francisco Chronicle requested a copy of anindependent review of the finances at the University of California at SanFrancisco. UCSF denied the request, saying that it would violate theUniversity’s contract with the auditing firm.

“The university was in a bind, they had to decide whether they wouldfollow the contract or the Public Records Act,” said Adam Keigwin,communications director for Yee.

Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper PublishersAssociation, said the situation was “astonishing.”

“In essence, a third party could control a government agency’slegal duties under the California Public Records Act,” Ewert said.

Ewert said the bill has little opposition; the bill has the support ofgroups such as the Council of University of California Faculty Associations, theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and ConsumerWatchdog.

The bill now moves to the State Assembly. Keigwin said he expects the billto pass without significant opposition.

UCSF declined to comment about the legislation.