Today, California Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San José) introduced AB 1944 to require a remote participation option for members of the public as well as allow members of a local legislative body, upon majority vote, to waive Brown Act requirements of publishing their private addresses and making their private address open and accessible to members of the public.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, teleconferenced meetings have provided a unique opportunity for Californians across the state to better participate in both local and statewide government meetings. Many local elected officials and appointed members have also participated remotely in official business and have shown effective leadership while keeping themselves and their families healthy and safe.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen that remote public participation for governments is not only possible, but vital to many folks who otherwise would be excluded from decision-making spaces,” said Assemblymember Alex Lee. “I’m proud to fight for the modernization of the Brown Act and the continued utilization of these important tools.”
Under existing law, the legislative body of a local agency can use teleconferencing as long as a quorum of the members participate from locations within the boundaries of the agency’s jurisdiction. However, even with existing legislation, the body must take a majority vote to allow for the waived teleconference requirement. If there is no majority vote, local elected officials who choose to teleconference are required to make private addresses publicly known and accessible. This is also only allowed during a declared state of emergency.
As there are many members of Brown Act bodies who have families that may be immunocompromised or may need to teleconference from a private location that cannot be made accessible to the public, there are still many concerns with existing legislation which require the publishing of private addresses and making their private address open and accessible to members of the public.
For example, if a local elected is teleconferencing from a hospital room after a procedure, the elected would be forced to either reveal the location they are teleconferencing from and make the room publicly available. Otherwise, the elected would not be able to attend the meeting and partake in official duties.
Another example is if a Planning Commissioner is immunocompromised, or has immunocompromised family members at home, they may choose to teleconference into meetings.
AB 1944 would ensure that:
• Brown Act bodies have the ability to vote to allow their members to teleconference into a meeting without having to reveal private addresses or make private addresses accessible to the public, in order to best continue performing their official duties
• Livestreams of meetings are required whenever local elected officials teleconference into meetings so members of the public have access to observe and participate in meetings
• Members of the public are able to address their elected officials either through a call-in or video option, ensuring that they are able to participate in government
By providing livestreams and call-in or video options for public participation, it benefits those who traditionally face obstacles in interacting with local government such as working families, low-income people, or people with disabilities. By allowing members of a Brown Act body to teleconference into a meeting if needed without having to publish their private addresses, it could lead to reduced travel and childcare costs, increase member participation, as well as diversify the potential board members and commissioners who are able to serve.
The bill is co-authored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and supported by Gilroy City Councilmember Zach Hilton, Santa Clara School Board Member Vickie Fairchild, Santa Clara School Board Member Bonnie Lieberman, Seaside City Councilmember Jon Wizard, South San Francisco Councilmember James Coleman, San Bruno Park District Trustee Andriana Shea, Santa Ana City Councilmember Jessie Lopez, and Sacramento City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela.
“I am proud to be a joint author to AB 1944 and applaud Assemblymember Lee once again for his leadership,” commented Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens). “This bill is about evolving in light of what we’ve learned is possible with the Covid-19 pandemic to remove barriers to and encouraging community engagement. Allowing remote participation for the community will ensure that those who wouldn’t normally show up to a meeting would be able to have their voice heard. This bill goes a long way to advance the goal of open government that is transparent but also prioritizes the health and safety of the community and elected officials by giving elected officials with health conditions the opportunity to participate without disclosing the location of their address.”