Statement Opposing Proposed Changes to California Public Records Act

Society of Professional Journalists
Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter
Post Office Box 572632
Tarzana, CA 91357

April 1, 2019

The Society of Professional Journalists, Greater Los Angeles Pro Chapter is opposed to AB 700 (Friedman), which is scheduled for a hearing before your committee on April 2, 2019, unless the bill is amended.

Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s bill, sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, is a proposal to amend the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to exclude broad new categories of records related to research conducted through public colleges and universities. UCS and its allies assert that CPRA has been abused to harass researchers, interfere with their work, and compromise and undermine legitimate scholarship and the academic mission of free inquiry.

SPJ/LA respects the integrity of the academy and can readily agree that harassment, threats, and intimidation are antithetical to the proper function of higher education institutions, and to a healthy and robust democracy.

However, we believe there are adequate legal protections and statutory remedies already in place that afford colleges and universities ample opportunity to respond effectively to overly intrusive and inappropriate records requests. To the extent that additional legislation may be
deemed necessary, it should be very narrowly tailored and carefully considered in the context of protecting openness and transparency in public institutions, and ensuring the widest possible participation in public processes and decision-making, as paramount values in a democratic society.

We support the positions taken by the California News Publishers Association (CNPA) and the California First Amendment Coalition, who oppose the bill unless amended. And we endorse CNPA’s publicly stated commitment “to continuing to work with the author on narrowing the
scope of the bill so that it is not harmful to the public’s right to know what government agencies are doing on its behalf.”

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