A cloak of secrecy

Why is the Legislature exempted from the open-records act?

Do you need another reason to be angry at the California Legislature? Probably not, but here’s one anyway: Unique to California public institutions, the Legislature is exempted from the California Public Records Act. That means it can keep secrets other agencies—cities, counties, school districts—are required by law to reveal.

When the Legislature passed the CPRA in 1968, it specifically exempted itself and approved a separate Legislative Open Records Act. As the Los Angeles Times has reported, that law broadly exempts the Legislature from full disclosure of “records of complaints to or investigations conducted by … the Legislature.”

The Times cites the case of a $70,000 legal settlement—taxpayers’ money—paid out in June that specifically prohibits a staffer who accused a former colleague of harassment from going public with the charges. The Times was unable to learn either the name of the staffer alleged to have engaged in the misconduct or its nature.

Any other agency would have been required to release that information, under the open-records act. We see no reason why the Legislature should have a special secrecy allowance. If the CPRA is good enough for everybody else, it’s good enough for legislators.