CSAC Bulletin Article

Brown Act Discussions Continue as Legislative Deadline Approaches

September 2, 2021

One week remains before the Legislature reaches its deadline to pass legislation for the year and the fate of two bills that amend the Brown Act remain uncertain. AB 339 (Lee) and AB 361 (Robert Rivas) are both currently pending on the Senate Floor at the time of this writing.

Nearly 70 years ago, the California State Legislature passed the Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs how local agencies must conduct public meetings, including requirements for meeting notifications and agendas. The Brown Act has been amended many times since its passage, but the core objective is to establish and preserve the right of the public to attend and participate when local legislative bodies discuss and decide items of public importance.

AB 361 includes language similar to parts of last year’s COVID-related Executive Orders that ease some Brown Act requirements related to public officials participating remotely, but only when there is a state of emergency that makes it unsafe to meet in person. The bill was most recently amended to include an urgency clause in order for the bill to take effect immediately upon adoption, notable since the Governor’s Executive Order concerning Brown Act flexibility expires at the end of September. CSAC strongly supports AB 361, which provides counties with the opportunity to continue holding public meetings remotely as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact local agencies’ ability to meet safely in person.

AB 339 requires Boards of Supervisors and City Councils in jurisdictions with 250,000 residents or more to offer a two-way telephonic or internet-based service for the public to view and participate in meetings. CSAC joins a coalition of organizations and public agencies opposed to AB 339, which lacks flexibility for local governments to conduct Brown Act compliant meetings in the event of technological failure or public disruption, or to manage comments in a way that allows ensures officials can come to a decision on the matters being considered in a reasonable time.

As the Legislature prepares to adjourn for their Fall recess, CSAC staff continue to engage in discussions with stakeholders on how best to modernize the Brown Act in a way that empowers communities, promotes meaningful public participation, and builds off the learned experiences of local public agencies.

 

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