Two First Amendment groups sued the state in Sacramento County Superior Court today, not to force the release of information necessarily but to force the release of the electronic database that stores that information.
Berkeley-based MAPLight.org and the California First Amendment Coalition want the Office of the Legislative Counsel to hand over copies of the database records used to create the government Web site leginfo.com, which tracks bills’ amendments and votes through the legislative process. The groups aren’t alleging that the government is trying to hide something; anyone who knows a bill’s number or author can already follow its progression through the existing Web site.
See why they want the database, after the jump.
“There are things you can do with a full database that you can’t do with the current system,” Peter Scheer, executive director of CFAC, said.
MAPlight.org asked for the database in July through a California Public Records Act request. Two weeks later Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine rejected the request, saying that while state law requires her agency to disclose certain records in its bill-tracking database, it doesn’t require the release of the database itself. CFAC made the same request to Boyer-Vine in August. That too was denied.
“It’s a control issue,” Scheer said, “and if keeping control reduces the risk of something embarrassing coming out, they’re going to keep control.”
Even though government agencies are storing more and more information electronically, Scheer believes this is the first time anyone has tried to obtain this type of database from the state.
Rachel Matteo-Boehm, a partner in the San Francisco office of Holme, Roberts & Owen, is lead counsel for the two plaintiffs.
— Cheryl Miller