Legislator pulls anti-transparency bill after SPJ/LA, others protest

Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) has pulled AB 700, her bill to exempt a vast swath of university research materials from the state’s public-record disclosure law. Her decision came after protests from SPJ/LA, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the ACLU, and other journalism organizations and open-government advocates.

AB 700 was introduced on Feb. 19, 2019 and breezed through the Assembly Judiciary Committee on April 2 on a 9-3 vote, despite reservations voiced by Chairman Mark Stone (who ultimately supported it.) But it ran aground before it could be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after fierce opposition from journalism organizations across the state, consumer advocates, animal-rights groups, and others concerned that it would throw a shroud of secrecy around research funded and/or conducted by public universities.

See SPJ/LA letter of protest here and a second letter from SPJ/LA President Stephanie Bluestein here.

In a May 2 Facebook post, Friedman cited a November 2018 article in New York Times about the “weaponizing” of public-record requests and its potentially chilling effect on research as her rationale for introducing the bill. Then she explained her reason for tabling it for the remainder of the 2019 legislative session:

“Our open records laws are critical to government transparency – they rightly protect the public’s right to know what’s happening with their tax dollars and keep decision makers at all levels accountable. However, like many of you I find the push by some industries, whether they are the NRA intent on discrediting research on lead poisoning in wildlife, tobacco companies seeking to stifle public health research, or chemical manufacturers racing to register patents based on public research, troubling….Over the past month, I’ve heard from a number of organizations and advocates about their concerns and outright opposition to the bill…AB 700 was never intended to obscure animal research, sexual harassment, or professional wrongdoing. That’s why I’m putting a hold on the bill for this year.”

SPJ/LA will continue to monitor the situation and will be prepared to speak out again should the bill return for further legislative consideration.

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