State bill aims for increased transparency

The state Senate Education Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would increase transparency and accountability in California’s public higher education institutions.

Senate Bill 8 — authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco — passed by a 7-1 vote and would require auxiliary organizations within the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges systems to adhere to state public records laws.

The California Public Records Act requires state and local agencies to make their records available for public inspection and to make copies available upon request and payment of a fee unless those records are exempt from disclosure.

The bill would extend the act to include auxiliary organizations that receive public funds from or perform government functions on state campuses.

Auxiliary organizations would be required to comply with the act but would not be required to disclose information obtained in the process of soliciting potential donors that have “actual or potential independent economic value because it is not generally known to the public or because the individuals can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use.”

Though a previous version of the bill overwhelmingly passed through the legislature, it was vetoed by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said that it would not be an adequate remedy for ensuring that there is proper transparency in the UC system.

UC officials have agreed with Schwarzenegger’s position that the bill would inappropriately extend public oversight laws to private organizations.

However, Yee said in a statement that he is confident that the bill will be signed into law, should it reach Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

“I am confident that unlike his predecessor, Governor Jerry Brown will match his action with his rhetoric and sign this bill into law,” Yee said in the statement. “Our public universities should not be allowed to hide billions of dollars without any accountability. Most of these auxiliaries are fully staffed by public employees who administer public funds, yet their decisions are made in complete secrecy. Taxpayers and students deserve better.”

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.