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Let there be light

As deadlines loom in California’s landmark law to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, the Senate hopes to write into the state budget a rule that forces Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Market Advisory Committee to eschew closed-door meetings and allow the public to view its deliberations. The committee is charged with proposing the heart of the carbon-emissions law–the system of rewards and penalties that will actually make the statute work.

The confidential nature of the committee is well known in the Capitol but has been largely ignored outside the state, where the focus has been as much on Schwarzenegger, an actor-turned-politician with a huge fan base, as on the new law. Experts note that the committee’s role is to make recommendations only, and that the final decision will be made publicly by the Air Resources Board.

But the deliberations leading up the Market Advisory Committee’s recommendations have largely been private–and that rankles Senate Democrats.

“Any discussion that is being sponsored by the state should be open and accessible. It’s not very complicated, really. There are no trade secrets there,” said Senate Leader Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat. The problem, he added, is that the law is being shaped outside the public view.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, also questioned the secrecy. “When in doubt, err on the side of open government,” he said.

The recommendations by the Market Advisory Committee (MAC) are expected by the end of the week. The committee is scheduled to convene June 12 to take public testimony its findings. The final report–presumably reflecting that testimony–is due to be sent to the ARB by the end of June.

But even if the Senate’s open-meeting language were approved, it would have little impact on the MAC, which closes its doors before July 1, when the new budget takes effect. It could, however, affect future advisory committees. Three laws govern public access to government information: the Brown Act, for local governments; the Legislative Public Records Act, for the Legislature; and the Bagley-Keene Act, which deals with state agencies and their advisory committees.

The question, however, is whether Bagley-Keene applies to advisory panels created by executive orders. Like the other two laws governing public access, there have been few successful prosecutions for violations.

The dispute over open meetings and their connection to the greenhouse-gas emissions has simmered since last year when the law–which fights global warming by cutting carbon emissions to below 1990 levels over the next 13 years–was passed by the Legislature and signed by Schwarzenegger.

The law, AB 32 co-authored by former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley and Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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