By John Pinkney
The purpose of the California Public Records Act is to facilitate public access to a wide range of governmental records. It is important to note that the law itself encompasses a vast array of information in order to encourage transparency when it comes to how the people’s business is conducted by governmental bodies. Of course, the Act does come with a group of information types that may be exempted from disclosure, depending on the circumstances at hand.
What Does the Act Cover?
Unless there is an applicable exemption in place, virtually any record created by a governmental office or agency in California will be subject to the Records Act. This includes those originating with municipal corporations, school districts, county and state offices, state agencies and commissions, public entities and nonprofit organizations that are subject to local agency authority. The Records Act does not compel public access to private agencies, state legislators or their committees, or to state courts. Information disclosure pertaining to these entities are governed by other regulations.
Key Exemptions to the Records Act in California
As stated earlier, there are multiple exemptions to the disclosure rules contained in the Records Act. These include records related to personnel records, medical files, pending lawsuits, taxpayer data, privileged information, library borrowing history, employee relations matters and homeland security initiatives.
Law enforcement agencies are able to claim exemption from disclosure rules in a number of instances. These can include criminal complaints, details of investigations, security procedures, intelligence data and other documentation of investigative methods utilized by such agencies.
Is There Reason to Worry About Private Data?
The Public Records Act in California is applicable only to documents and information generated by public agencies that is related to public business. Governmental employees and public officials can rest assured that their own private information remains exempt from disclosure.
Guidance for Those Seeking Access to Public Records
Records produced by public entities can be extremely valuable for anyone involved in litigation, fact-finding, journalism and academic research. However, securing information that should be accessible to the public can unfortunately prove rather difficult. Enlisting the help of a Palm Springs public agency law attorney is often the best way for citizens to ensure access to information pursuant to the provisions of California’s complex Public Records Act.