Legislation to force the Assembly and Senate to comply with the same public records standards imposed on local governments was proposed today by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino.
The measure, Assembly Bill 1129, would repeal the Legislative Open Records Act and require the Legislature to abide by the California Public Records Act, which places less restrictions on access to records.
"Assembly leaders have hidden documents and expenditures from the public long enough," the La Cañada Flintridge Democrat said in a written statement.
"No more gimmicks, no more tricks and no more incomplete and misleading financial documents can be circulated or tolerated," he said.
Portantino's measure was sparked, in part, by a dispute between himself and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez that led to public records requests for current office budgets of all 80 Assembly members.
The Assembly balked at releasing the current fiscal records, citing exemptions in LORA for "preliminary drafts, notes or legislative memoranda" and correspondence to member offices.
The Bee and the Los Angeles Times subsequently filed a lawsuit, which is pending, in an attempt to force disclosure.
Assembly administrator Jon Waldie, at the time, said the documents can change throughout the year, can contain personnel information, and can be tied to private communications with legislators.
Portantino contends that release of the Assembly's monthly expenditure tallies would prove that Perez slashed his office budget as punishment for being the lone Democratic vote against this year's budget.
"It is hypocritical of the Legislature to say it embraces open government when it is fighting so hard to keep the public in the dark on how it operates," Portantino said. "A secret budget is by its very nature a corrupt budget.
"Assembly leaders are putting themselves above the will of the people by declaring that budgets, expenditures and ongoing operational documents are preliminary drafts, notes or legislative memoranda," Portantino added.
Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Pérez, declined to comment on AB 1129 but indicated that Portantino is grandstanding.
"It's interesting that Mr. Portantino never brought this up the first two times he ran for Speaker and lost," Swanson said. "And if this was an issue of such vital importance to him, why did he wait until the last nine days of session to introduce it?"
Pérez announced last week that he is creating a task force, led by Rules Committee Chairwoman Nancy Skinner, to make recommendations by the beginning of next year's session.
Pérez said that open government is a matter of "paramount importance" and that the "time has come" to update existing policies.
"How taxpayer dollars are expended is public information, and it is our job to ensure that the public has access to it," Pérez said.
Portantino scoffed at Pérez's decision to study the matter.
"It doesn't take a task force," he said. "It only takes the moral will to embrace the open government the good residents of California demand and deserve."
* Updated at 6 p.m. to add comment by Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.