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Newspapers sue Legislature for lawmakers’ spending records

August 5, 2011 |  4:43 pm

A group of newspapers, including The Times, has waded into the budget feud between Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge).

The media outlets filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court on Friday to compel the Legislature to release the current office budgets and spending records of Assembly members, information that the chamber says is exempt from public disclosure.

Last month, the Assembly Rules Committee rejected multiple requests for legislators’ office budgets, including one filed by Portantino. The termed-out lawmaker first sought the records to rebut claims by Pérez that he was a profligate spender. Portantino says his office budget has been cut and his staff has been threatened with suspension as punishment for being the only Assembly Democrat to vote against the state budget in June.

Pérez’s office denies Portantino is being punished and maintains he overspent his office budget.

The rules committee, however, has refused to release lawmakers’ spending records, saying they are protected from disclosure under provisions in the Legislative Open Records Act that exempt “preliminary drafts, notes or legislative memoranda” and “correspondence of and to individual members of the Legislature and their staff.”

The spat raises the larger issue of legislative secrecy.

The lawsuit says the budget documents “concern the conduct of the people’s business and the use of public resources to conduct that business, and do not fall under any of the exemptions” in the Legislature’s open-records law.

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

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