Calif. Lawmakers Balk at Budget Records Request

     (CN) – The California Legislature and Assembly filed court papers claiming that they already far exceed disclosure requirements and saying that sought-after correspondence about the disbursement of taxpayer money is “explicitly exempt from disclosure.”



     The case, which pits the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee against California lawmakers and Assembly Rules Committee Chair Nancy Skinner, stems from a series of news reports on the feud between Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, over Portantino’s office budget.
     Portantino has claimed that Perez slashed his spending allowance in retaliation for voting against the state budget. The newspapers filed three different requests for information regarding Assembly spending and budgets under the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA) this summer, but the petition says they were denied each time.
     Portantino allegedly failed to trim his staff after losing his position as chairman of the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
     In opposition papers filed last week, the Legislature and Skinner say Portantino lost his chair and was asked to trim his budget “long before he voted for the budget.”
     “Mr Portantino failed to trim his staff … despite repeated warnings from the speaker and the Assembly Rules Committee and an increase in his allocation to help him with his projected deficit,” according to the 34-page brief. “All of this was done either orally or through correspondence which is protected from disclosure under the LORA.”
     But Speaker Perez actually raised Portantino’s allowance by $50,000, from $205,000 to $255,000, to help him deal with his deficit while Portantino chaired the Select Committee on the Preservation of California’s Film Industry, the filing alleges. Select committees typically do not receive annual allocations, according to the Legislature. Mr. Portantino’s allocation for the last full year he chaired the Revenue and Taxation Committee was $609,000.
     While the Assembly is happy to disclose the Portantino’s expenditures, the body is less than forthcoming with other information requested by the newspapers.
     “The great majority of petitioners’ legal argument … is devoted to casting the LORA in the most expansive terms possible and suffusing it with the presumptions and particular exemptions of the California Public Records Act (CPRA),” the memo continues. “But the LORA is not the CPRA; it was crafted to address the specific needs of the Legislature and legislative records, which differ significantly from the needs of … governments covered by the CPRA. There is good reason for that: both deliberative privilege and separation of powers concerns come into play with respect to legislative records.”
     Assembly Rules Committee fiscal officer Gus Demas agreed in a declaration.
     “I believe that in addition to the documents the Assembly has already provided petitioners, petitioners’ LORA requests … have not been produced because they are protected from disclosure under the LORA,” Demas wrote.
     The petition for the Writ of Mandate will be heard in Sacramento Superior Court on Dec. 2.
     Skinner, the Legislature and the Assembly committee are represented by Robin Johansen with Remcho, Johansen and Purcell of San Leandro.

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