Our View: 2 good bills from the Legislature
Yes, the Legislature sometimes actually produce good bills. Here are two, from among the hundreds of bills confronting lawmakers as the end of their session Aug. 31 approaches.
Senate Bill 1002, authored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, "requires public agencies to provide or post to the Internet required public documents in an open format," such as the common Microsoft Excel and Word.
Currently, the thousands of state and local government agencies across the state put their documents online in an array of formats that often are conflicting and confusing.
According to the Legislature's analysis of SB1002, the cost could be "tens of millions of dollars" at a time of perpetual budget deficits.
However, Lee said his bill actually "does not require the purchase of anything." The added cost would come if the standards' adoption by some departments "forces other departments to adopt it."
And the standards' adoption also could be "nudged along by the general public to also have this data format," Lee said.
We won't know unless SB1002 becomes law, but making government information easier to analyze by citizens and watchdog groups likely will save far more than the cost to implement common standards. Waste more easily could be identified.
We encourage the Assembly to pass it.
SB1160 is authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima. It would prohibit the government from shutting down communication services, such as cellphone networks, "for the purpose of protecting public safety or preventing the use of communications service for an illegal purpose," unless authorities first obtain a court order. While "protecting public safety" and preventing illegal acts might seem praiseworthy, it is not the job of government bureaucrats to do so simply on their own discretion.
Using cellphones, computers, tablets and other electronic devices is protected by the First Amendment.
Allowing government arbitrarily to shut down such communications is the equivalent of allowing it to shut down newspapers because bureaucrats don't like what they read.
SB1160 was inspired by the Aug. 11, 2011, shutdown of wireless phone service for three hours by Bay Area Rapid Transit officials to hamstring a protest "that was spurred by the fatal shooting of 45-year-old Charles Hill by BART police" the month before, reported CBS San Francisco. "The decision was made after agency officials saw details about the protest on an organizer's website."
Among those opposing SB1160 is the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, which said, "Although well-intentioned, we believe SB1160 will result in a threat to public safety in crimes involving terrorists, hostages, barricade situations and other emergencies. This could cause loss of life or serious physical injury to innocent persons."
However, since 9/11, too many laws have been justified because they supposedly thwart terrorism while infringing upon Americans' liberties. Legitimate threats can be met by obtaining a court order before shutting down a communications network. We can be safe and free, too.
The Legislature has passed SB1160. We urge the governor to sign it.