California lawmaker makes another push to prohibit the use of NDAs in state lawmaking process

California lawmakers for the second time this year will consider a proposal that would prohibit lobbyists and public officials from signing non-disclosure agreements in the state’s lawmaking process.

The latest proposal comes about a month after lawmakers in the Assembly Elections Committee rejected a similar bill, with Democrats on the committee and its chairwoman unwilling to explain why.

The effort is the result of KCRA 3’s reporting that the confidentiality agreements were used to keep secret the closed-door negotiations on California’s controversial fast-food labor law in 2023. A handful of representatives with labor and major fast-food chains signed NDAs during the tense negotiations in an attempt to build trust but left franchisees and other labor groups out of the discussion.

The law came under scrutiny earlier this year after Bloomberg first reported and KCRA 3 independently verified that the governor’s office, influenced by a major Panera franchisee and donor, pushed for an exemption for bakeries that produce and sell their own bread as a standalone menu item in the original version of the law under that was under threat of a referendum.

In 2022, that carried into what ultimately became law in 2023. The governor has since claimed the exemption does not apply to Panera, while key stakeholders at the table refuse to say if the exemption was discussed under the NDA-protected talks.

The Legislative Open Records Act and California Public Records Act also shields those communications from the public. In response to a records request in May, the governor’s office would not provide communications between Gov. Newsom’s chief of staff, Dana Williamson and the Service Employees International Union, the powerful labor group that required negotiators of the fast-food labor law to sign NDAs.

Assemblyman Joe Patterson, R-Rocklin, gutted and changed his Assembly Bill 1174 to include the new ban on NDAs on Wednesday.