PUBLICCEO: Bills Signed by Gov. Brown Boost Transparency and Accountability

Legislative wrap up by Phillip Ung and Caitlin Maple

October 21, 2015

Governor Jerry Brown has cleared his desk of hundreds of bills sent to him by the Legislature. In total, the Governor signed 808 bills and vetoed 133 bills. Among the approved bills were victories that hold true to the values and legislative priorities of California Forward’s Partnership for Public Accountability.

In order for democracy to work, it requires elected leaders to be responsive and representative, government decisions transparent, and voters empowered through an electoral process that holds officials accountable for results.

Among this year’s wins were two bills that make significant progress for transparency in local governments by setting new standards for open data. AB 169, authored by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), received bipartisan support and sets statewide standards for local governments releasing information designated as “open.”

The bill will require that data to be available for free in a format that is “retrievable, downloadable, indexable, and electronically searchable.” Having consistent standards will help local governments designing their own open data programs and allow for universal and predictable access to important information.

Another approved open data bill, SB 272 by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), will require local governments to produce a catalog of major computer “enterprise” systems used to collect and maintain public information, such as reports on economic activity and public services.

“A better understanding of data means a smarter government, and that translates into improved services and jobs and a stronger helping hand to residents who need it most,” said Senator Hertzberg in a release after the bill was signed into law.

“These bills provide Californians with unprecedented access to information about their local agencies,” said Robb Korinke, consultant from Grassroots Labs, who worked on AB 169 and SB 272 on behalf of California Forward. “Together with efforts at the Government Operations Agency and other state agencies, California is making huge strides in data transparency.”

On the issue of election reform, the passage of AB 477 by Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) was also a closely watched bill supported by the California Forward Action Fund. With the growing use of vote-by-mail ballots, election officials have noticed a significant number of ballots being rejected due to missing signatures or other issues. This bill allows election officials to make contact with the voter and inform them their ballot may be rejected, thus giving the voter an opportunity to correct the problem.

“Having one of the highest ballot rejection rates in the country should be a wake-up call for California, and with the majority of voters casting their ballots by mail, it is important to do everything we can to make sure all legitimate ballots are counted,” said Assemblymember Mullin.

Finally, the passage of AB 594 by Assemblymember Rich Gordon makes common sense updates to California’s campaign finance law. According to Gordon, “AB 594 would streamline some provisions of the Political Reform Act to reduce redundancy and improve accountability.”

This bill is an example of California Forward’s approach to the contested issue of campaign finance. Like any other government program or policy, campaign finance can be designed intelligently to ensure the results balance the need for efficiency, efficacy and building of public trust.

Continuing its work in improving governance, CA Fwd’s Partnership for Public Accountability has embarked on the Election Funding Project, exploring models across the state and nationally to improve cooperation between California’s state and local governments in adequately funding elections.

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