California State Agencies Free To Delete Emails After Legislators Kill Retention Bill

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By Wes Venteicher, SACRAMENTO BEE

August 15, 2022

California state agencies will be able to keep deleting emails and other documents as soon as officials see fit after legislators killed a records retention bill on Thursday.

Assembly Bill 2370 would have required the agencies to preserve records for at least two years, applying the same standard California imposes on cities and counties.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank, kept the bill from advancing to a vote in the full chamber, effectively quashing it without explanation or debate.

The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, received unanimous support in the Assembly in May.

“The two-year retention standard is good enough for cities and counties, so you’ve got to scratch your head and wonder why the state isn’t willing to embrace that standard,” Levine said in an interview Friday.

State agencies set their own retention schedules, which range from a few months to decades depending on agency and record type.

The schedules are posted in a database on a Secretary of State website.

Trade and advocacy groups including the California News Publishers, the First Amendment Coalition and Californians Aware, along with the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, had supported the proposal.

“AB 2370 would have ensured Californians have access to information about the workings of their government,” Carmen Balber, Consumer Watchdog’s executive director, said in a news release. “The irony is, Sen. Portantino used the most un-democratic tactic to do so, shelving the bill without explanation or a vote.”

Levine, who campaigned against Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara this year, introduced the retention proposal in the wake of a scandal involving Lara.

Lara met with insurance industry executives who had donated thousands of dollars to his campaign in 2019 despite a campaign pledge not to do so,

The Sacramento Bee reported that year. Consumer Watchdog requested records related to Lara’s donor meetings under the Public Records Act, and when Lara refused to provide some of the records, sued for them in 2020. In 2021, the Insurance Department introduced a policy that would have required deleting most emails after 180 days.

Amid public scrutiny and after some employees raised concerns about losing important emails, the department withdrew the policy.

A spokesman said the policy was not “workable in implementation.” Levine said similar proposals had been vetoed in the past.

When asked why he thought his proposal was pulled this year, he blamed a “culture of deletion” in state agencies. Levine lost the Democratic primary to Lara. His term in the Assembly ends in December.


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