Two bills to increase transparency and accountability at UCs, CSUs

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again – the old adage goes. This is what Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is doing for two of his bills that were vetoed last fall. As 2010 begins, Yee is reintroducing the two bills with some changes.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bills last October.

SB 330 (formerly SB 218) updates the California Public Records Act. The bill aims to include more records of donations and services at higher education institutions. Donors can choose to remain anonymous.

In his veto message to the Senate, Schwarzenegger said he could not support these changes to the public records law.

“Enacting this bill would result in a loss of private donations and volunteer activities supporting California public institutions of higher education, at a time when the University of California, California State University and community college campuses are facing significant reductions in state funding during this difficult fiscal situation,” the Governor said in his October message.

The second bill, SB 650 (formerly SB 219) expands on the Whistleblower Protection Act. It intends to give the same protection state workers receive to UC and CSU employees who report waste and fraud. The original bill included only UC employees.

Senator Yee said these bills are important and imperative to run a university system.

“The governor often talks about transparency and accountability, but on these two bills his actions didn’t match his rhetoric,” said Yee’s Chief of Staff Adam Keigwin of Schwarzenegger’s veto last fall.

The new legislature will head to a Senate judiciary hearing today. The governor has yet to take a position on the newly drafted bills.

“The Governor has not taken a position on either of these bills,” said Deputy Press Secretary for Governor Schwarzenegger Mike Naple. “He likes to wait and review the legislation once it makes it to his desk before taking a position.”

Both bills involve decisions that would impact the University of California. Director of State Government Relations at the Office of Government and Community Relations at UC Davis Jason Murphy said the regents have yet to take a formal position on the reintroduced bills.

“The UC Regents had ‘oppose’ positions on both SB 218 and SB 219 at the time they went to the governor’s desk for his consideration in the fall of 2009,” Murphy said. “It’s my expectation that the UC system will again express strong concerns with both measures.”

Supporters of the bills hope the reintroduction will give the governor a chance to reconsider. Terry Francke, general counsel for the non-profit Californians Aware, has submitted letters of support for the transparency bills.

“Our organization’s mission is to improve public forum law,” Francke said. “Part of that has to do with making information that the public should be cognizant of available to them by eliminating legal and governmental barriers.”

Support for whistleblowers is crucial, as insiders are sometimes the only people who have access to information, Francke said. The revised bill applies the same standards for both UC and CSU whistleblowing employees.

For the CPRA bill, Francke said the public is entitled to know about donations and donors.

“Schwarzenegger’s veto message said it was a threat to the privacy of the donors and volunteers,” he said. “I don’t know if he read the bill, but it wasn’t true.”

SASHA LEKACH can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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