A Guide to the California Public Records Act

A Guide to the California Public Records Act

Complete Guide:  Pages 1-76


Introduction and Overview Origins of the Public Records Act 
The California Public Records Act (the PRA) was enacted in 1968 to: (1) safeguard the accountability of government to the public; (2) promote maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations; and (3) explicitly acknowledge the principle that secrecy is antithetical to a democratic system of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”1 The PRA was enacted against a background of legislative impatience with secrecy in government and was modeled on the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) enacted a year earlier.2 When the PRA was enacted, the Legislature had been attempting to formulate a workable means of minimizing secrecy in government. The resulting legislation replaced a confusing mass of statutes and court decisions relating to disclosure of government records.3 The PRA was the culmination of a 15-year effort by the Legislature to create a comprehensive general public records law. 
Fundamental Right of Access to Government Information 
The PRA is an indispensable component of California’s commitment to open government. The PRA expressly provides that “access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”4 The purpose is to give the public access to information that enables them to monitor the functioning of their government.5 The concept that access to information is a fundamental right is not new to United States jurisprudence. Two hundred years ago James Madison observed “[k]nowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy or perhaps both.”

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