California Senate Committee Kills Good Government Bill To Bar Destruction of Public Records using Secretive "Suspense File"
SACREMENTO, Calif., Aug. 11, 2022
SACREMENTO, Calif., Aug. 11, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Senator Anthony Portantino's Senate Appropriations Committee killed good government legislation today using one of the Legislature's most undemocratic tactics, the "suspense file," which legislative leadership uses to bury bills without public debate or a vote, said Consumer Watchdog today.
AB 2370 (Levine) would have required all state agencies to retain public records for a minimum of two years. The bill had previously passed through the Assembly and through Senate Judicary with overwhelming bipartisan support, and without a single No vote.
State agencies currently have no minimum time requirement to keep records, placing the public's right to access those records at risk, said Consumer Watchdog.
"Shame on Senator Portantino for using the secretive 'suspense' process to quietly kill a good government bill that had nearly unanimous legislative support. AB 2370 would have ensured Californians have access to information about the workings of their government. The irony is, Senator Portantino used the most un-democratic tactic to do so, shelving the bill without explanation or a vote," said Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog.
AB 2370 was supported by California News Publishers Association, Californians Aware, Consumer Watchdog, First Amendment Coalition, and Oakland Privacy.
The bill arose from the government corruption scandal involving the Department of Insurance and the workers' compensation insurer Applied Underwriters.
A second bill prompted by the scandal, AB 1783 (Levine) to require "consultants" influencing administrative actions of state agencies to register as lobbyists, was passed by the committee and now moves to the Senate Floor.
California's landmark Public Records Act reflects the principle that government transparency is essential in a democracy. Yet, there is no minimum retention period for such records that applies to state agencies. As a result, records may be deleted or destroyed before the public or journalists are able to access them.
AB 2370 would have applied to state agencies the same minimum two-year retention period for public records that is already in place for California counties and cities.
Just this year the Department of Insurance adopted a record deletion policy that would have automatically deleted agency email after 180 days unless individual staff manually archived each email.
The email deletion policy, which was pulled back in the wake of media attention, was developed following statewide news coverage of the pay-to-play scandal involving Applied Underwriters and cloaked campaign donations to Insurance Commissioner Lara's 2022 re-election campaign.
Failure to retain public records is a problem that reaches beyond the Department of Insurance. For example,
- As recently reported, the chief administrative officer of a state agency testified that she routinely shredded scoring worksheets that she no longer considered "relevant," even though they were central to a contract bidding dispute.
- CalPERS began automatically deleting email older that 60 days in 2011 after a different government scandal.
- In 2016, CalTRANS's 120-day auto delete email policy was determined to constitute spoilation of evidence.
- The California Environmental Protection Agency currently considers emails transmitting "informal information" to be "transitory," and are deleted after 90 days.
- The Medical Board destroys "physician licensing files . . . . not necessary to establish qualifications for licensure" upon the time the physician's license is issued.
- The DMV destroys records regarding a driver's failure to establish insurance coverage following an accident after just 30 days.
- The Department of Forestry destroys records regarding hazardous material (Hazmat) property upon expiration of the relevant contract regardless of the time period, and records of fire safety inspections after one year.
SOURCE Consumer Watchdog