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AB-2607 Department of Fish and Wildlife: Office of the Ombudsperson.(2019-2020)

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Date Published: 02/20/2020 09:00 PM
AB2607:v99#DOCUMENT


CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2019–2020 REGULAR SESSION

Assembly Bill
No. 2607


Introduced by Assembly Member Mathis

February 20, 2020


An act to add Section 701.7 to the Fish and Game Code, relating to fish and wildlife.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


AB 2607, as introduced, Mathis. Department of Fish and Wildlife: Office of the Ombudsperson.
Existing law establishes the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is administered through the Director of Fish and Wildlife. Existing law vests the department with jurisdiction over the conservation, protection, and management of fish, wildlife, native plants, and habitat necessary for biologically sustainable populations of those species. The California Constitution establishes the 5-member Fish and Game Commission, with members appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate. Existing law requires the commissioners to annually elect one of their number as president. Existing law requires the commission to formulate the general policies for the conduct of the department and requires the director to be guided by those policies and be responsible to the commission for the administration of the department in accordance with those policies.
This bill would establish in the department the Office of the Ombudsperson administered through the ombudsperson. The bill would require the commission to appoint the ombudsperson and would require the office to operate independently of department staff and to report to the president of the commission. The bill would require the office to undertake specified duties under the supervision of the president of the commission, including, among other duties, to work independently as an intermediary to provide individuals with a confidential process to address complaints with the department and resolve disputes with the department. The bill would require information provided to the ombudsperson as part of a complaint pursuant to these provisions to be protected as confidential and to be exempt from public disclosure, including, but not limited to, disclosure pursuant to the California Public Records Act.
Existing constitutional provisions require that a statute that limits the right of access to the meetings of public bodies or the writings of public officials and agencies be adopted with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest.
This bill would make legislative findings to that effect.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Section 701.7 is added to the Fish and Game Code, to read:

701.7.
 (a) There is in the department the Office of the Ombudsperson administered through the ombudsperson. The commission shall appoint the ombudsperson. The Office of the Ombudsperson shall operate independently of department staff and shall report to the president of the commission. The Office of the Ombudsperson shall perform the following duties, subject to the supervision of the president of the commission:
(1) Work independently as an intermediary to provide individuals with a confidential process to address complaints with the department and resolve disputes with the department.
(2) Act as an unbiased party during disputes. The Office of the Ombudsperson may investigate a complaint regarding the department and may make a recommendation to the commission regarding the complaint.
(3) Help to clarify permit requirements and resolve regulatory conflicts.
(4) Propose policy and procedural changes when the office identifies systemic issues in need of reform.
(b) Notwithstanding any other law, information provided to the ombudsman as part of a complaint pursuant to this section shall be protected as confidential and shall be exempt from public disclosure, including, but not limited to, disclosure pursuant to Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1 of the Government Code.

SEC. 2.

 The Legislature finds and declares that Section 1 of this act, which adds Section 701.7 to the Fish and Game Code, imposes a limitation on the public’s right of access to the meetings of public bodies or the writings of public officials and agencies within the meaning of Section 3 of Article I of the California Constitution. Pursuant to that constitutional provision, the Legislature makes the following findings to demonstrate the interest protected by this limitation and the need for protecting that interest:
The need for the Office of the Ombudsperson, as created by this bill, in the Department of Fish and Wildlife to fully examine complaints with the Department of Fish and Wildlife outweighs the interest in public disclosure of information obtained by the Office of the Ombudsperson in connection with its activities.