A look at transparency on the ballot this 2018 midterm election

A look at transparency on the ballot this 2018 midterm election

These two states could change their public records law this year

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Edited by JPat Brown

In Nevada, Question 1 on this year’s ballot is Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment, better known as Marsy’s Law, and would exempt certain law enforcement records from being disclosed. Meanwhile in San Francisco, Proposition B, the Personal Information Protection Policy Charter Amendment better known as the “Privacy First” measure is set to protect the personal information of San Francisco residents from abuse by tech companies. Yet, the measure’s broad language could award the City’s Board of Supervisors the ability to change its transparency laws in the future.

Golden State voters supporting Proposition B, like Oakland Privacy, feel reassured that the new prop wouldn’t hinder open government laws.

“Language has been included in Prop B to assure that any changes to existing voter approved initiatives, including but not limited to SF’s 1999 Sunshine Ordinance, must adhere to the voters intentions. That is a high bar to meet in a court,” said Tracy Rosenberg of Oakland Privacy via email. “For the record, SF’s current City Attorney has stated he has no intention of using Prop B to weaken open government laws.”

The contention comes from a clause buried within the policy that subjects San Francisco’s previously untouchable Sunshine Ordinance to change.


Yet, Rosenberg and her group feel confident that both privacy and the 1999 San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance can change for the better through Prop B.

“Freezing the language in the ‘99 ordinance for eternity is no reason to prevent privacy protections in San Francisco,” added Rosenberg. “Governmental transparency and privacy protections are not and have never been opposed interests. We can have both.”

It should be noted that if this ordinance passes, San Francisco would be the only jurisdiction in the state to be affected.

Similar to Prop B, Marsy’s Law in Nevada is labeled as Question 1 on the Nevada Ballot. It is a constitutional amendment, that if passed, would be added to the Nevada constitution and protect victims of crime. Questions 1 outlines 16 rights for crime victims, including privacy protection from the defendant, notice of all public hearings, full and timely restitution, and refusal of interview or deposition requests without a court order.

At issue is the law’s broad definition of “victim” to any person directly or proximately harmed by a criminal offense.That means that Marsy’s Law could protect police officers who use use of force on the job as a means of self-defense. Those who oppose the law feel the broad language is ripe for exploitation by agencies and could lead to the closing of court records once a matter is taken to court.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada highlighted the broad definition of “victim” and said it could further complicate the criminal justice system.

“This could extend enforceable rights to corporations or result in a vast swath of passionate people inserting themselves into the criminal justice system,” ACLU Nevada wrote in their statement.

According to ACLU Nevada, the group claims that Marsy’s Law “is poorly drafted” and is “a threat to existing constitutional rights.”

“We sought to add language stating that the law was not intended to infringe upon the federal or state constitutional rights of criminal defendants, but the language was amended out by politicians,” said ACLU Nevada in their statement.

Currently, South Dakota has Marsy’s Law enacted in its constitution for over two years. Law enforcement agencies in South Dakota now wait 72 hours before revealing the name of victims involved in car crashes or crime. Also, those seeking car accident reports for their insurance claims were unable to do so. In addition, the law protects anyone who fits the definition of a victim.

Voters have big decisions to make this midterm election. Access to government and transparency are just one of hundreds of major initiatives on this year’s ballot.

Image via Wikimedia Commons