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State Sen. Hueso Says Public Records Bill Intended To Reduce Frivolous Lawsuits

March 5, 2019 1:33 p.m.

GUEST: State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-40th District

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Related Story: State Sen. Hueso Says Public Records Bill Intended To Reduce Frivolous Lawsuits

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Kaye PBS is supported by the law firm of men working with startups and growing companies men's legal services can help clients raise capital secure space and protect intellectual property to achieve strategic goals. More admits dot.com myths built on excellence driven by change California's Public Records Act gives the public access to government records.

But a new bill if passed would require anyone requesting public records to go to mediation with a public agency before suing to obtain them. It would also make it harder to collect attorney's fees from public agencies not complying with the law. I spoke with State State Senator Ben way so who represents parts of San Diego County and all of Imperial County via Skype.

Earlier this morning about that bill. Senator ways so thanks for joining us. Good morning. How are you.

Good thank you. So a recent state law made police misconduct records available to the public. Did that law play a role in your decision to propose this legislation.

Absolutely not. Not at all. These are not related at all.

And so what inspired you to write this bill.

Well I did have experience in local government and I actually hear state government as well and it's very usual for us as to get public record Act requests and we work very hard every day to satisfy them. When I learned that in the last few years these requests have ballooned enormously over six hundred and forty percent in some instances related to the city of San Diego. It's something that I think the public needs to know about I think you know it's good that we have transparency and it's. And the idea is to get the government to fulfill filling that information and making it public as soon as possible but also to minimize the amount of litigation facing these instances.

If we can the idea is to provide people in the community with information but necessary not necessarily reward people that are simply looking to sue a government agency. These lawsuits can be very expensive. And if somebody is only seeking to sue the city or government agency we need to find a process that at least ensures that people are given the information that requesting without it necessarily being motivated by lawsuit.

You know legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association has said that this bill would make it more difficult for members of the public to get information about their government. Was that your goal.

I disagree with that. I think it would be easier for members of the public if you don't have an attorney if you're not motivated by a lawsuit over the actually easier under this bill because it would put you in a meet and confer process. It would put you in front of a city official actually in their office in their desk for you to request specifically what you're looking for. If if I'm a member of the public that doesn't can afford an attorney. That would be a much easier process for me to follow than to have to go through a process of requesting information and then going to litigation nobody that I know of has ever taken the city to litigation and it's harder oftentimes to get in front of a public official if the law says the public reflection official needs to be in front of a person that that is a must want more forceful requirement.

And I think more people would be more accessible like local governments provide this information to the public.

OK.

And what if the public agency doesn't agree to meet that if they do not agree to meet the public has every right to file a lawsuit. Absolutely.

I'm not sure that that's that's clear in the legislation that you proposed.

Well when the law says the agency must meet and confer or the public is afforded the right meaning conferred and they refuse.

That is obviously the agency's failure to comply with the law and by making it harder for the winning party to collect attorney's fees it would essentially make the public pay to enforce the law. Why do you think that should be the case.

I don't agree that's true. I don't think that this makes it more difficult to collect a judgment if people following a meeting come for are not satisfied or don't feel that they're being given all the information that they deserve they can sue and they can be awarded damages.

And frankly there will be more punitive damages against an agency if they if they fail to provide that information to the public willingly and knowingly. And I think that's a much stronger requirement that if there is willful conduct on behalf of a city to not provide this information to the public they will be punished under my bill.

And this bill was sponsored by the San Diego city attorney's office.

What does that mean what was their role in proposing this legislation in essence or they're the ones that need to defend the city and they're the ones that are seeing a problem more more than anyone else. City attorney has come to me with very statistics showing that you know in the case of an inadvertent mistake if you're handling four thousand eight hundred twenty four annual requests and you make an a mistake and that immediately without any communication with the person requesting it takes you to court and wins them just simply because they filed a lawsuit.

Lawsuits are very expensive. They clog up our courts that costs the city attorney's office and the city taxpayers a lot of money.

Those incidents could be prevented if somebody simply sat down and said look there's a page missing from this document that you sent me or there is some information that may exist that I believe exists that you haven't provided to me. If a simple inadvertent mistake is made and in the process of processing all these requests it could cost taxpayers thousands if not hundreds of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that also is not good for the public. You know it erodes the public's trust that the public is not handling their taxpayer dollars wisely.

And if that is caused by a requirement of the law it it I think generally and the people in the public don't understand that. Or they might not understand that and they see that you know hundreds of thousands are going to pay attorney's fees and it's just not where taxpayers intend their money to go. They want to fix streets and build parks and improve their cities. And I'm trying to you know create a balance. I'm trying to make sure that we don't erode the public has access to important data public. Transparency is the pillar of our system of government without the public knowing what their government is doing and how their taxpayers dollars are being spent.

You know our system of government can not work.

So this bill is not intended to somehow stop that flow of information we're trying to manage the amount of lawsuits and we're trying to stop people from filing frivolous lawsuits more than anything else.

All right. I've been speaking with Senator Ben Quayle salvia Skype wasted represents parts of San Diego County and all of Imperial County. Senator way so thank you so much for joining us. Thank you.