State Senate passes higher education transparency bill

The California State Senate approved a piece of legislation Thursday that would bring greater transparency and accountability to the state’s public higher education institutions — the University of California, California State University and the California Community Colleges.

Senate Bill 8 — dubbed the Transparency Act by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco — was passed with a 38-1 vote and, should the amended bill be approved by the state Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, would ensure that UC, CSU and the community college auxiliaries and foundations adhere to state public records laws beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Under the bill, all financial records, contracts and correspondence would be subject to public disclosure upon request.

“We were thrilled that the bill received an overwhelming vote,” said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff. “Nearly every senator supported (the bill) — it was supported by Democrats and Republicans. The fact that the UCs and the CSUs no longer oppose the bill — there had always been support from students, faculty and workers — is great. And we do think it will be signed into law.”

The state Senate’s approval of the bill comes on the heels of lengthy discussions between Yee and the UC and CSU. Discussions resulted in an amended version of the bill after an original draft was vetoed in October 2009 by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said the bill would not be an adequate remedy for ensuring proper transparency in the UC system.

Steve Juarez, associate vice president and director of state governmental relations for the UC Office of the President, said in a statement released Friday that the UC had reviewed the amended version of the bill and was “pleased to report that our position is ‘Support, With Amendments.’”

According to the statement, while the bill does provide a reasonable process for requests of documents — which will be codified in the state’s Education Code — there were still two issues the UC felt required further discussion — protection to donor privacy under circumstances where a UC campus foundation may share donor information with a financial institution or auditor for legitimate business purposes and the UC’s belief that publicly offered benefits to donors in exchange for their donations should not serve as a waiver to donor privacy protection, regardless of the amount received.

“While we are not predicating our support for SB 8, as amended, on inclusion of these changes, we have indicated to the author and the sponsors that we believe the issues are important ones to resolve before the bill is finalized,” Juarez said in the statement.

According to Keigwin, minor changes to language within the bill will occur as the next steps in the process required to get the bill to the governor’s desk begin, though “the essence of (the bill) won’t change.”

Per state constitutional rule, the bill will next go to the state Assembly, where it will go through the one of the Assembly’s policy committees — most likely the Committee on Higher Education — with the bill then likely going straight to the Assembly floor to be approved, Keigwin said. The bill will then be given to Brown, and should he receive the bill by mid-August, he will have two weeks to either sign or veto it. But if the bill does not reach the governor’s desk until the end of August, Brown will instead have 30 days to consider the bill.

“I don’t think we should have a problem getting it to him by mid-August, though,” Keigwin said.

Katie Nelson is an assistant news editor.