California Lawmakers Again Propose NDA Ban for Legislative Action

California Lawmakers Again Propose NDA Ban for Legislative Action

Fast-food workers and union members protest outside a McDonald's in Oakland, Calif., on Feb. 12, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Travis Gillmore
Travis Gillmore

6/13/2024

Updated: 6/18/2024

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California Assemblyman Joe Patterson introduced a new bill on June 5 that would ban nondisclosure agreements—better known as NDAs—in the legislative process after a similar measure was killed in April.
Assembly Bill 1174 seeks to prevent public officials and lobbyists from entering secretive agreements when drafting, discussing, or negotiating proposed legislation or rulemaking. Additionally, any current NDAs would become void and unenforceable if the bill is ultimately approved.
The author said the bill is needed to ensure transparency.
“We need to restore faith in the legislative process and ensure the public has confidence that it is transparent,” Mr. Patterson said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times on June 10. “NDAs serve no purpose other than to intentionally shield the public from back-room deals. Lobbyists and public officials should never sign them. Period.”
Some lawmakers have been looking to eliminate NDAs since Sacramento television station KCRA broke the news on March 7 that discussions were kept secret related to a bill, which became law last year, that raised California’s minimum wage to $20 per hour for the fast-food industry.
According to the news outlet, multiple sources confirmed that NDAs existed between the Service Employees International Union and other groups in negotiations regarding the bill and, in a subsequent story, quoted the union saying they were related to trade secrets and not used to conceal the political process.
The Epoch Times could not independently verify the information and a request for confirmation by the union of the NDAs was not returned by deadline.
Mr. Patterson said learning of the use of an NDA in that situation has created a need to prevent such from occurring again.
“I was honestly shocked when I learned a former influential elected official signed an NDA during negotiations,” Mr. Patterson said. “AB 1174 doesn’t prevent public officials from meeting with stakeholders, but it does stop lobbyists and policy makers from intentionally keeping impacted communities in the dark.”
He said he expects support from other groups that recognize such agreements have no place in the Legislature.
“Why would we not put a stop to it? It’s a no-brainer,” Mr. Patterson told The Epoch Times on June 11. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
The newly introduced bill contains exemptions for proprietary financial data and trade secrets, two points of concern raised by opposition to the prior measure—Assembly Bill 2654—introduced earlier this year by former Assemblyman and current Congressman Vince Fong.
The new bill acknowledges the importance of NDAs in litigation between parties but notes they are inappropriate when crafting laws or negotiating legislation.
Though no official stances have yet been taken on AB 1174, the previous version of the bill received support from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers and California News Publishers associations.
A request for comment from the taxpayers association was not returned by deadline.
“Without transparency, trust in government erodes, especially if statutes that apply statewide were crafted under legally binding confidentiality,” the organizations wrote in the letter supporting the previous bill. “The crafting of public policy should be done with full transparency and on behalf of the public, not shielded by nondisclosure agreements.”
The proponents expressed concern that secret agreements were used to shield legislative discussions from public scrutiny.
“This is a troubling trend that cannot continue,” the groups wrote.
Opponents additionally said the prior bill was too broad, arguing that discussions are at times complicated and sometimes involve attorneys speaking on behalf of their clients. Such discussions would need to be exempt, they argued.
“There are countless scenarios in the policy and political arena where two parties enter into a legal business contract,” Ben Golombek, executive vice president and chief of staff for policy for the California Chamber of Commerce, said during an Assembly committee hearing in April. “The chamber has long defended employers and private parties’ ability to use confidentiality agreements, and we see this bill as infringing on that.”
The new bill was originally introduced as a horse racing wager bill but was changed in a process known as “gutting and amending” by which a bill’s original language is replaced after the deadline to introduce new bills has passed.
While amended language for AB 1174 has been presented to the Legislature, its new text has not yet been published. Meanwhile, its author said he is waiting for it to be assigned to respective committees.
“It should get a hearing,” Mr. Patterson said.
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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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