Local governments would be permanently required to offer remote access in public meetings under a new bill introduced into the California Assembly.
Assembly Bill 1944, announced Feb. 9 by California Assemblymembers Alex Lee (D-San Jose) and Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), would change the current law that requires a majority vote to conduct remote meetings. The law would also waive a Brown Act requirement—which requires government affairs to be open to the public—that officials publicize their private addresses if they are teleconferencing remotely.
“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,” Lee said in a statement. “I’m proud to fight for the modernization of the Brown Act and the continued utilization of these important tools.”
Lee argued that the Brown Act’s requirement to disclose private addresses could hurt an official’s ability to conduct their civil duties.
“[I]f a local elected [official] 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,” according to the statement.
In addition, AB 1944 would require public access to livestreams of meetings whenever local elected officials teleconference remotely. This way, members of the public would be always able to address their elected officials through a call-in or video option.
Allowing officials to teleconference into a meeting without needing to publish their private address could also diversify potential board members and commissioners who can serve, according to the statement.
“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,” Co-author Cristina Garcia said.
“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.”