The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

June 1, 2011
Grand jury bill progresses, but has been defanged

A bill aimed at California's civil grand juries could reach the floor for a final Assembly vote as soon as today.

But it will be missing what many opponents saw as its most objectionable part.

Assembly Bill 622 would have required that witnesses testify in public session, except for confidential personnel matters. Critics warned that change would have a chilling effect on whistleblowers and that witnesses would be less willing to testify candidly. And that would hurt the ability of grand juries to go after fraud and abuse in local governments, the bill's foes said.

That provision was excised because it would have added costs to local governments as the bill passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote last Friday.

The bill still calls for the subjects of grand jury reports to have at least 45 days to respond before the reports become public. The measure also says that witnesses should be able to have lawyers at their side while testifying.

Opponents, who include former and current grand jury members in Sacramento County and elsewhere, say those requirements are unnecessary and would get in the way.

The measure is being pushed by new Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who came under fire from Sacramento County grand juries while he was a county supervisor. He says there needs to be more transparency for grand juries so they don't run amok and abuse their power.

The Bee's editorial board concluded that while grand juries have made some mistakes, there's no evidence there are widespread problems - and no compelling reason to change what have been important watchdogs over local government.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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