Email Transparency Bill Clears California State Assembly

SACRAMENTO (CN) – California lawmakers Tuesday overwhelmingly approved transparency legislation that will force public agencies to wait at least two years before deleting emails.

Assembly Bill 1184, inspired by investigative reporting which outlined how many San Diego County cities routinely deleted emails that were less than 100 days old, cleared the state Assembly in a 48-4 vote.

San Diego Democrat Todd Gloria says his legislation creates a uniform, statewide email retention standard for California cities and state agencies to follow, and he called it a win for open government groups and journalists.

“The public has a right to access emails and documents pertaining to the public’s business,” Gloria said in a statement following Tuesday’s vote. “Currently, local governments and public agencies across California have radically different email retention policies. This bill will set a sensible and clear two-year email retention standard statewide.”

California law bars city governments from destroying public records that are under two years old, but many cities have adopted rules that allow email servers to be wiped well before two years. Many cities contend that the 1968 California Public Records Act does not pertain to emails and have essentially ignored the two-year standard, citing the cost of storing emails in the long term.

The Voice of San Diego’s investigative report found that the cities of Poway and Encinitas deleted emails after 30 days and San Diego County deletes emails after 60 days.

Gloria intended for the bill to apply to both emails and text messages, but he was forced to take on hostile amendments in the Assembly Appropriations Committee earlier this month.

The amended measure now “requires a public agency for purposes of the California Public Records Act to retain and preserve for at least 2 years every writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, or used by any public agency that is transmitted by electronic mail.”

The measure received bipartisan support Tuesday and moves on to the state Senate. Supporters include the California News Publishers Association and the First Amendment Coalition.

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