In March of 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a set of Executive Orders which relaxed certain requirements for the conduct of teleconferenced meetings under the Brown Act (Gov. Code, § 54950 et seq.). The Executive Orders suspend, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the following requirements: (i) that locations from which one or more council members are participating remotely be identified on the meeting agenda and be accessible to the general public; (ii) that the agenda be posted at the remote location and a majority of the public agencies legislative body participate from within the public agencies territorial boundaries; and (iii) that a physical location be made available for members of the public to participate in the meeting, provided alternative means are made available for the public to listen to the meetings and provide public comment. The growing appeal of flexibly conducting meetings in this manner has prompted members of the State legislature to promulgate various bills intended to make permanent some of the relaxed procedures established under the Executive Orders while also safeguarding the public right to meaningfully listen to and participate in such meetings. Included among these bills are the following:
AB 992: Prohibition of Serial Meetings on Social Media Pursuant to AB 992 (Assemblyman Kevin Mullin) – PASSED
What this bill will do: On September 18, 2020, Assembly Bill 992 (“AB 992” or “the Bill”) was adopted which amended the Brown Act’s prohibition of serial meetings. AB 992 took effect on January 1, 2021 and will remain in effect until January 1, 2026.
AB 992 amends the Brown Act to prohibit certain types of communication by officials on social media platforms that are “open and accessible to the general public.” This covers activity across all social media, including but not limited to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, blogs and much more.
AB 992 prohibits elected officials from using these social media platforms to discuss official business “among themselves,” which means making posts, commenting, or using digital icons such as a like, a thumbs up, a hug, a sad face or a heart, that express reactions to communications made by other members of the legislative body. It further prohibits elected officials from responding directly to any communication that is made, posted, or shared on social media by another member of the same legislative body regarding matters in the City’s jurisdiction.
The bill also clarifies which social media communications will not run afoul of the Brown Act. Public officials may continue to utilize social media platforms to communicate with their constituents about topics within their legislative body’s jurisdiction. Elected officials may continue to solicit opinions from their community, they may answer a person’s question about a matter that is within the official’s subject matter jurisdiction and they may continue to provide the public with information.
AB 361 (Assembly Member Robert Rivas): Allows for Virtual Meetings Only in Declared Emergencies – PROPOSED
What this bill would do: This bill, introduced by Assembly Member Robert Rivas on February 1, 2021, would allow teleconference meetings only when there is a declared emergency. More specifically, it would allow teleconference meetings when a legislative body holds a meeting for the purpose of declaring or ratifying a local emergency, during a declared state or local emergency, when state or local health officials have imposed or recommended measures to promote social distancing, and during a declared local emergency provided the legislative body makes certain determinations by majority vote. The bill would require legislative bodies that hold teleconferenced meetings under these abbreviated teleconferencing procedures to give notice of the meeting and post agendas, to allow members of the public to access the meeting and address the legislative body and to give notice of the means by which members of the public may access the meeting and offer public comment. This bill would still require that each teleconference location be identified in the notice and agenda of the meeting or proceeding, and each teleconference location be accessible to the public.
AB 703 (Assembly Member Blanca Rubio): Extends the Ability to Continue to Allow for Virtual Meetings – PROPOSED
What this bill would do: This bill, introduced by Assembly Member Blanca Rubio on February 16, 2021, would extend the relaxed rules established by the Governor’s Executive Orders indefinitely and permanently. Under this bill, if a legislative body elects to use teleconferencing, it must allow members of the public to observe the meeting and address the legislative body. As with the Executive Orders, this bill does not relieve the legislative body of the continuing obligation to give notice of the meeting and post agendas. Agendas must continue to provide interested members of the public with an opportunity to address the legislative body directly. In each instance in which notice of the time of the teleconferenced meeting is otherwise given or the agenda for the meeting is otherwise posted, the local agency must also continue to give notice of the means by which members of the public may observe the meeting and offer public comment.
This bill also makes permanent the suspension of the requirement to identify each teleconference location on the notice and agenda and permanently eliminates the requirement that each teleconference be accessible to the public.
AB 339 (Assembly Member Alex Lee and Cristina Garcia): Mandatory Virtual Participation with Translation Services – PROPOSED
What this bill would do: This bill, introduced by Assembly members Alex Lee and Cristina Garcia on January 28, 2021, would require all meetings, including gatherings using teleconference technology, to include an opportunity for all persons to attend via a call-in option or an internet-based service option that provides closed captioning services and requires both a call-in and an internet-based service option to be provided to the public. The bill requires all meetings to provide the public with an opportunity to comment on proposed legislation, as provided, and requires translation services to be provided for the 10 most-spoken languages, other than English, in California. Paralleling current state law, the bill requires those non-English speakers requiring services of a translator to have double the amount of time as those giving a comment in English, if time restrictions on public comment are utilized. The bill requires translation of all agendas and meeting instructions into all languages spoken by 5 percent or more of the jurisdiction’s population. The bill also requires instructions on how to attend the meeting to be posted at the time notice of the meeting is publicized and also requires, teleconferenced meetings to include an in-person public comment opportunity, even in a declared state or local emergency.
As mentioned, this bill would only affect public participation. If the legislative body elects to conduct a meeting or proceeding by teleconference it must post agendas at all teleconference locations and conduct teleconference meetings in a manner that protects the rights of any party or member of the public appearing before the legislative body. Each teleconference location must be identified in the notice and agenda of the meeting and each teleconference location shall be accessible to the public.
We will continue to monitor the progress of all three bills and any others which may emerge from the current legislative session. If there are any questions or comments pertaining to this Bill, please feel free to contact our office.