CSAC Bulletin Article

Brown Act Expansion Bill Narrowed, Passes Committee

April 29, 2021

What should the future of government meetings look like? How should local agencies balance transparency, cost, and the safety of local officials? How can the Brown Act be modified to recognize the modern realities of interconnectedness?

These questions are at the heart of the debate about AB 339, a bill authored by Assembly Member Alex Lee and Cristina Garcia and sponsored by the ACLU California Action and the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

In its original form, AB 339 would have required that all state and local government meetings subject to open meeting laws—meetings that number in the dozens or hundreds monthly for most counties—offer call-in and internet-based public attendance and comment options and the internet-based option would need to include closed captioning. All meetings, even those held by teleconference, would have needed to offer in-person attendance and comment. AB 339 would have disallowed prioritizing those who attend in person over members of the public participating remotely. It would also have required translation of agendas and access instructions, and live translation during meetings, for any language that at least five percent of the constituency speaks.

CSAC opposed AB 339 when it was heard in the Assembly Local Government Committee this week, based on the enormous costs it would impose, as compliance with these provisions will require significant one-time equipment expenses in addition to ongoing costs to staff and maintain these services and provide translation. Additionally, concerns were raised about the legal effects if teleconferencing or internet-based options went down during a meeting. Finally, before the committee hearing, AB 339 was amended so that it no longer applied to the meetings of state bodies or the Legislature.

However, the author took amendments offered by the committee to narrow the bill considerably. Those amendments, which are not yet in print, would instead only apply to Board of Supervisor and City Council meetings for jurisdictions of at least 250,000 residents, and would only require them to offer telephone participation during their meetings. The amendments would remove requirements to provide translations beyond what is already required by the Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act and to provide two-way video participation options.

During the hearing, it became clear that many of the bill’s supporters were deeply unhappy with the amendments, raising the possibility that they might try to reverse some of them as the bill continues through the legislative process.

The Assembly Local Government Committee passed AB 339, as amended, 7 to 0 with 1 abstention. The bill now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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