Bills advance in Calif. to protect advisers, ensure access to records

CALIFORNIA — A bill to protect journalism advisers was unanimously passed by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1370, authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo),”would prohibit an employee from being dismissed, suspended, disciplined,reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against” for protecting studentspeech, according to a legislative summary. The bill protects teachers at publicand private high schools, community colleges and public universities.

SB 1370 follows another bill Yee authored in 2006, AB 2581, which tookeffect in January 2007 and prohibits administrators from punishing students forengaging in protected speech.

“Allowing a school administration to censor in any way is contrary tothe democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as thewatchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of school administrators,” Yee saidin a written statement. “It is quite disheartening to hear, that after wespecifically prohibited prior restraint by administrators, that some areengaging in this type of nefarious activity and even firing quality teachersbecause of content in the student newspaper.”

The Assembly’s Government Organization Committee on Wednesday unanimouslypassed another bill sponsored by Yee, which would prohibit a state or localagency from allowing an outside entity to control the disclosure of informationthat is otherwise subject to the state’s Public Records Act.

Senate Bill 1696 came as a reaction to a contract between the University ofCalifornia at San Francisco and a private auditing firm that prohibited theschool from fulfilling a January 2007 open-records request from the SanFrancisco Chronicle. The contract required consent from the firm before therequested information could be released.

“The bill will bring greater transparency to government agencies includingthe University of California,” said Adam Keigwin, a spokesman for Yee. “Inshort, the public will have a better sense of where their money is going.”

Both bills face a full Assembly vote before going before Gov. ArnoldSchwarzenegger for his signature or a veto.