Earlier this week, AB 609, a California bill promoting better public access to taxpayer-funded research, passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill, which flew out of the Assembly last year, heads next to the Senate floor. It's great that California is just two steps away from passing the first meaningful state-level public access legislation in the US. We are disappointed, however that the current version of the bill has been watered down significantly.

In its initial stages, the bill required all publicly funded research in California to be made freely available six months after publication. But then politics stepped in. Before long, the embargo period changed from six months to a year. And most recently, with pressure mounting from publishers, the bill greatly narrowed its scope to only cover research funded by the State Department of Public Health.

On balance, we still support the bill, but taxpayers should have better access to the research they fund. In an effort to make sure this discussion isn't off the table, we sent a letter of concern [pdf] to the Appropriations Committee last week:

The initial version of AB 609 applied to all publication stemming from publicly funded research in California. Public access to such publications is crucial not only to doctors, patients, and researchers, but also to educators, students, entrepreneurs, and individuals who can benefit from the state of the art across all disciplines. Public access is quickly becoming the norm, particularly on the federal level with the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy initiative last year mandating over 20 agencies create and implement public access policies. This initiative extends beyond public health research to cover publications about education, transportation, energy, security, and basic science. We hoped to see California follow this trend.

The current version of AB 609 is a step in the right direction, but an unnecessarily modest one. While we support the bill's intent and are encouraged to see California on its way to being the first state to pass meaningful public access legislation, we urge the bill's sponsors to restore its initial scope, so the public can benefit from the full array of extraordinary work California supports.

There is a chance the scope of California's potential public access policy could expand in future legislative sessions. Open access is as hot a topic as ever, and we do seem to be making inroads on the federal level. But it would be nice to see California meaningfully leading the charge to bring the people access to the important research we fund.

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