The Ins and Outs of State Public Records and Open Meetings Laws in California

Resource Government
January 16, 2013 — 1,013 views  
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The Constitution of California and the State Public Records Act have given the residents of California the right to access public information which is maintained by the state and local government agencies. One can access the required information through The Department of Justice (DOJ), California.  The state also allows the public to attend a large number of open meetings of the local government bodies.

California Public Records

One can access a wide variety of information through the California public records. You can access information about VISA/Immigration status and foreign adoptions. You can also check the details about a non-profit organization or a business enterprise. The records can also be used for obtaining background checks and information about sex offenders. Using these records, you can also file complaints and know more about consumer protection rights. Information about sex offenders and criminal histories can also be obtained by accessing these records.

Requesting the Records

To access a particular record, you should provide the authorities with specific details regarding the information you need. The details should include the name of the record, the subject matter, and the particular department within the office where the records can be found, in case it is known.

You can also fill out an online form which is available at the DOJ’s website. For viewing criminal records, you should obtain prior clearance from the concerned authorities. For obtaining a record which is under the authority of a local jurisdiction or the Superior Court, you should directly contact the court which has jurisdiction over the matter.

Obtaining the Records

The Department of Justice will get back to you with the records within a period of 10 days of application. At times, the department may ask for an extension of another 14 days. If there is any problem with the record you asked for, then they will let you know within this specific time period. If you want to duplicate the records, then you should pay the DOJ 10 cents per page as the copying fee. The DOJ may charge more if it has to extract or compile electronic data and perform computer programming to obtain the records.

Open Meetings Laws

The rules in the state of California have also endowed the public with the privilege to attend many government meetings. The meeting can either be a physical gathering of people, or else it can also take place by teleconference. There are two separate statutes which provide the public with the right to access these meetings. These statutes are The Brown Act and The Bagley-Keene Act.

The Brown Act

The Brown Act defines the laws which pertain to the open meeting sessions of local legislative bodies. The law states that local bodies should paste a notice mentioning their meetings in a place which is accessible to everyone, at least 72 hours beforehand. They should also mail a copy of the notice to those who have requested it in writing. A fee may be charged for mailing the copy, but it should not be greater than the actual value of the service.

The Bagley-Keene Act

The Bagley-Keene Act applies to governing bodies at the state level. According to this act, state government bodies should put up an agenda regarding their meetings on the internet. This should be done at least 10 days before the date of the meeting. They must mail the notice to those who have given a request in writing. The notice should contain the location, date, time, and agenda of the meeting.

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