An Issue That Can Be Resolved WIth a One-Word Law Change

(Editor’s Note: A long-time friend of the chief correspondent of California’s Capitol is a public information officer with a state agency. Her observation about the efficacy of complying with California’s Public Records Act inspired this post.)

State agencies have 10 days to respond to a Public Records Act request. The presumption would be 10 “working” days. That’s not the case.  It’s 10 calendar days.

Here’s what Government Code Section 6253 (c) says:

“Each agency, upon a request for a copy of records, shall, within 10 days from receipt of the request, determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records in the possession of the agency and shall promptly notify the person making the request of the determination and the reasons therefor.”

In “unusual circumstances,” which are defined later in the code section, the time limit can be extended. However, in nearly all cases, 10 days is the limit in which agencies must respond.

While 10 calendar days would seem sufficient to decide the validity of a request, from a practical standpoint the timeframe is much smaller. A weekend subtracts two days. A Friday furlough takes away another.

Assuming a request arrives on Thursday afternoon at a state agency, it isn’t opened until Monday. By Monday, the remaining seven days would run out the following Sunday, leaving five weekdays to respond to the request.

Similar situations likely occur at the city and county level.

Legislation adding the word “working” between “10” and “days” in Section 6253 (c) would resolve the issue without drawing out the response period egregiously, several state public information officers say


Filed under: State Agencies


  1. Greg: We see you are tackling the big issues of the day in your column. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Darrell and John — 7.21.2010 @ 7:50 am

  2. While I am sympathetic to the plight of all of our sisters and brothers serving the public under the pressure of staffing cutbacks, reductions in pay, and involuntary furloughs, providing those few extra days through the insertion of “working” is a slippery slope indeed that will serve to further impede the public’s access to public documents.
    If the public interest is of interest, stick with calendar days, por favor.

    The public is already being forced through a tedious paperwork process to get access to documents that for the most part could easily be sent via fax in response to a simple phone call (amazingly, still possible with many agencies)– without processing a formal written request that upon receipt must be logged in and routed through the agency attorney, from whom a response is required (but seldom forthcoming)within 10 days, turned over to clerical and/or policy staff to locate responsive documents, then back through legal and the mailing room for transmittal to the requester via snail mail weeks later, if at all.

    The ten-day period is already designed to provide a little “wiggle room” beyond a work week expressly to compensate for those pesky weekends.

    Ten working days are two weeks — a long time for the public to have to wait to discover that the agency in possession of the needed documentation is not going to respond without further prodding and tantrum throwing…

    Comment by Celtic Snake — 7.21.2010 @ 9:10 am

  3. I’d be more willing to consider the idea if it were not that so many public agencies use the current 10-day period not as a ceiling on permissible delay to make the required determination, but a floor. In effect they tell the requester, “We’ll let you know in 10 days,” no matter how simple or obvious may be the right of access.

    If we’re going to stretch the period out to two work weeks, then the tradeoff has to be substantial, like a requirement that any argument for withholding a record under the “balancing test” needs to be clearly explained, spelling out the facts that mean the public interest in non-disclosure trumps the public interest in disclosure. Oh, and no adding new arguments or legal authorities once a lawsuit is filed; with two weeks to research the justification for withholding information, the agency must play the hand it deals at the request response stage.

    Comment by Terry Francke, Californians Aware — 7.21.2010 @ 3:56 pm

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