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California Governor Vetoes Open Records, Prisoner Condoms and Media Access Bills
On September 29, 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislative bills that would have permitted better access to public records, condoms in state prisons as well as media access to specified prisoners.
The public records access bill (AB 2927) would have made public agency records requests available on the Internet. Any denials of requests for access would have been routed to the Attorney General, who would have been required to give a written opinion within 20 days. Additionally, tardy responses by public agencies would have subjected them to up to $10,000 fines. ?Right now, in California, someone who makes a request that is denied by a state or local agency has only two options. One is to sue ... and the other is to walk away with his tail between his legs,? said Thomas Newton, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Schwarzenegger, who ran for office on a platform of ?transparency in government,? reneged, pooh-poohing the bill as ?unduly burdensome? on the Attorney General. AB 2927 had passed both houses of the state Legislature unanimously.
The condom bill (AB 1677), authored by Assemblyman Paul Koretz, would have permitted non-profit healthcare agencies to make condoms available in all state prisons. Sponsored by the Southern California HIV/AIDS Coalition, the AIDS Project L.A. and the international AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the bill was aimed at interrupting a known major transmission path of HIV: infected prisoners exposing their mates upon parole. While costs of treating HIV-infected prisoners are high, not providing inexpensive condoms is truly irresponsible, given the growing taxpayer burden for prisoner healthcare and increasing suffering from spreading disease. California prisons already spend an estimated $18 million/yr. to treat HIV, $14 million alone on retroviral medications. In light of the recent federal receivership of California?s prison healthcare system for failure to provide constitutionally adequate healthcare [see: PLN, Mar. 2006, p.1], the veto of this ?inexpensive, pragmatic way to contain one extensive disease in state prisons? is particularly troubling, lamented AHF President Michael Weinstein. The Governor vetoed the bill because it would have conflicted with Penal Code § 286(e), which criminalizes sodomy.
The media access bill, SB 1521, sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero, would have permitted news reporters access to specific prisoners by prior arrangement, while protecting the prisoners from any form of retaliation for having given the interview. Schwarzenegger?s veto statement was, ?I do not believe violent criminals should be able to traumatize their victims a second time by having unfettered access to the media.? But since most prisoners are in for non-violent crimes, some of which are by ?glamorized? white-collar criminals, the Governor?s distinction appears hollow.
In lieu of approving the legislation, Schwarzenegger directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to issue new regulations allowing greater media access, while restricting access to specific violent criminals. Current regulations require a reporter to write to a prisoner to get an interview. Even then, such reporters are prohibited from bringing in writing or recording equipment. CDCR Director James Tilton said that the new regulations would permit recording equipment. But Romero?s bill would have permitted reporters to arrange specific face-to-face interviews, while prohibiting prison officials from recording them.
This was Schwarzenegger?s third veto of such legislation in three years, following suit with former Governors Gray Davis and Pete Wilson. It would appear that California?s prison walls are not so much for keeping prisoners in as they are for keeping inquiring minds out.
Sources: News Media Update, San Jose Mercury News, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
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