California governor signs bill easing some public records fees

California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a bill signing ceremony in 2019. (Photo: California Office of the Governor/Handout)

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed a bill allowing individuals to make copies of government records using their cellphones.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1819, was intended to provide the public easier access to government documents and other records.

Under current law, the California Public Records Act allows members of the public to inspect and seek copies of most local and state documents and other public records. The law allows state and local agencies to charge for duplication costs, something local agencies contend is needed to offset the cost associated with time spent and materials used to compile and copy records.

Critics have argued that provision puts a price barrier on access to public records and that agencies sometimes abuse the law by charging exorbitant fees in an effort to withhold certain controversial records.

AB 1819 removes these barriers by allowing individuals to copy public records themselves — including by taking photos of the records with their cellphones — as long as the mechanism used to duplicate the record doesn’t damage it.

The bill limits duplication methods by a requestor to one that “does not require the equipment to make physical contact with the record.” It also said local agencies do not have to give requestors access to secure government computer systems in order to duplicate records.

In a message to supporters on Friday, the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association said it supported AB 1819.

The new law takes effect on January 1, 2020.