The bill would now require the state Chief Information Officer (CIO) to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of providing electronic records in an open format. The League is committed to working with the Legislature and the state CIO to discuss what types of records are appropriate to be provided in an open format, develop a definition of open format, and determine whether a statutory change in this area is even necessary.
The League took an oppose position on the previous versions of SB 1002, which would have unnecessarily amended the California Public Records Act (PRA) and imposed a new mandate on public agencies to place agendas in an open format online. Current law already contemplates changes in technology. The PRA is intended to apply to every conceivable kind of record that is involved in the governmental process and pertains to any new form of record keeping instrument as it is developed (Braun v. City of Taft (1984)154 Cal.App. 3d 332). As previously drafted, SB 1002 was inconsistent with the purpose of the PRA and its jurisprudence to limit disclosure requirements to particular media or formats. The formats in which public records are stored are constantly evolving and the current definition of public record anticipates and intentionally accommodates for this kind of change and movement.
The League hopes that any future open data efforts are accomplished through collaboration between local and state leaders, open data experts, and private industry. This sort of collaboration can be very positive and may reach the overall goals of SB 1002 without legislative change. Several cities across the country have adopted their own open data initiatives. Most notably in California are the cities of San Francisco and Palo Alto. It is efforts like these that become models for change elsewhere and the need for statutory changes becomes less clear.
The Obama administration’s Open Government Directive to increase transparency within federal agencies is a good example. In addition to encouraging federal agencies to place data sets online through a policy directive the Obama administration is also reaching out to cities across the country to educate, build relationships, and collaborate on the idea of making more government information in the form of data sets available online. The federal government has even developed an open data portal, Cities.data.gov, for cities to make their data sets available online.
The League will continue to update city officials about our discussions with the Legislature and the state CIO on what types of records are appropriate to be provided in an open format, develop a definition of open format, and determine whether a statutory change in this area is even necessary. It may be that current local and federal efforts are the best approach to increasing awareness and use of open data. Moving forward, it is vital that a larger policy discussion precede any legislative change and involve local and state leaders, technologists, and private industry.