In a ruling issued earlier today, the Sacramento Superior Court essentially laughed away that defense:
The Assembly characterized member budgets and changes to them as preliminary drafts because they can change throughout the year; correspondence because they are sent to members; and confidential because they can contain personnel information, such as whether an employee will take a leave of absence.
[Judge Timothy M.] Frawley ruled that member-by-member budgets are not preliminary drafts because they reflect final decisions about allocating funds. The fact that they can be changed throughout the year does not exempt them from disclosure, he said.
"If the exemption were construed this broadly, virtually every document related to the Assembly's business would be exempt from disclosure, since virtually every document could, at least in theory, be modified at some later point in time," Frawley's 12-page ruling said.
Frawley also turned thumbs down on the argument that member budgets are exempt from disclosure as legislative correspondence simply because they are sent to members. He drew a distinction between correspondence and communications.
To accept member budgets as correspondence, he said, "would permit the Legislature to shield any document from public view simply by transmitting it to any Assembly member and/or his or her staff."
With the Assembly deciding late today that it will not challenge the ruling, the new transparency standard will now have the force of law. That's a laudable and necessary first step. Now comes the hard work: scrutinizing those numbers to ensure that they're in keeping with the best interests of California taxpayers. Given the great lengths to which the Assembly went to keep the information secret, we can assume there's plenty of fat to be trimmed.