Assembly Bill Would Make State-Funded Research Public


A bill heard in the California Assembly on Wednesday would require state-funded research, including that from universities, to be publicly accessible online for free no later than one year after publication.

Assembly Bill 609, or the California Taxpayer Access to Publicly Funded Research Act, introduced by Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert), also mandates that research be submitted to the state agencies granting the research funds and to the California State Library. 

“I think one of the overarching goals we’re trying to achieve is that California is always trying to be on the cutting edge of things, like technology,” Nestande’s legislative director Nanette Farag said. “In order to get at that level, we need to have access to that information. It would make sense that taxpayers have access to information that their tax dollars have paid for.”

The bill was supported by several institutions, including the University of California, but with reservations. The bill’s original six-month mandate was amended to 12 months after UC administrators argued it would comply with the federal 12-month policy and be more beneficial for publishers to achieve revenue needs.

“UC believes that a 12-month embargo period will facilitate publication in leading scholarly journals, which may reject manuscripts for which the permissible embargo is only six months,” UC legislative director Adrian Diaz wrote in a letter to Nestande. “Scholars at the University of California have a vested interest in ensuring that their work reaches the widest possible audience, including members of the public whose tax dollars support the University’s research.”

However, the UC administration also argued that both the UC system and the California State University system should be explicitly excluded from the bill’s definition of state agencies, partly due to the fact that they routinely fund their own research grants. AB 609 now includes an amendment that excludes UC and CSU campuses from the mandate.

If passed, taxpayer funded research would be mandated to be publicly available until Jan. 1, 2018.

A nationwide bill of similar regulations, called the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act, has also been introduced to Congress by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose).

“By protecting and advancing the free flow of information, we can nurture opportunity and maximize the progress of science, the furthering of discovery, and the growth of the American economy,” Lofgren said in a statement about the national bill.

The bills came into both the state and national spotlight when Internet “hacktivist” Aaron Swartz committed suicide after federal charges of wire fraud. Swartz illegally downloaded millions of research articles — including publicly funded university research — and released them for public access.