Looking to address concerns about transparency for state agencies, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 53 by Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita.
Wilk said the legislation was authored in part to address a concern from someone who was trying to attend a meeting in the Capitol about the state’s high-speed rail project, and was denied access.
“Californians deserve an open and transparent government. My bill ensures every level of government, including the state, is required to be equally transparent to the public,” said Wilk in a news release. “Today, we are one step closer to permanently closing a loophole that allows some state agencies to make decisions behind closed doors.”
Existing law is clear that the Legislature, as well as all local governmental bodies, must give proper notice and allow for public participation in their meetings. SB 53 would clarify existing statute and close a loophole that has allowed some state entities to meet behind closed doors.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s jurisdiction is to determine the financial impact that comes from a piece of legislation. Only the state agencies currently exploiting the loophole would incur additional expenses, so the impact on the state as a whole is minor.
The bill is supported by CalAware, the California Association of Licensed Investigators and the California News Publishers Association.
Its registered opposition comes from the California Board of Accountancy, which has a mission “to protect consumers by ensuring only qualified licensees practice public accountancy in accordance with established professional standards,” according to the CBA website.
Representatives for the CBA felt the bill “would prevent the CBA, and its committees, from asking two members to review a document, draft a letter, provide expert analysis, or advise CBA staff on other matters without giving public notice. … This bill would also appear to prohibit two board members meeting together with legislators in support of any important consumer protection issues.”
Wilk said that when agencies like the California High-Speed Rail Authority face hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, there are questions that need to be asked and answered.
“Transparency equals accountability,” Wilk said in a statement. “The committee’s action today underscores the Legislature’s commitment to an open government and moves us one step closer to shedding some additional sunshine on all facets of government. That is good for democracy.”
SB 53’s next stop is the Senate Floor.