Key Brown Act modernization bills set for hearings on May 4

Apr 27, 2022

As city officials scrambled to find safe ways to conduct business during the early months of the pandemic, it became abundantly clear that the Brown Act needed to be modified. Existing law did not provide cities the flexibility needed to conduct business safely while also maintaining transparency, access, and public engagement.

Through a series of executive orders and signed legislation, several changes were made to the Brown Act to allow for more flexibility during remote meetings. Next week, legislators will consider two bills that build on those changes.

2020-21 Brown Act modifications

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a series of executive orders to expand public access to meetings by suspending some of the restrictions placed on teleconferencing. After sustained advocacy from the League of California Cities in 2021, lawmakers passed AB 361 (Rivas, Robert), which allows cities to meet remotely under similar conditions during a declared state of emergency after the executive orders expired.

Many cities still use AB 361 to conduct public meetings safely and transparently. However, there is a strong desire from local officials to continue some of the flexibility allowed under AB 361 beyond a declared state of emergency.

Although current law does allow for teleconferencing outside of a declared state of emergency, it imposes several requirements, including that cities post where an individual is teleconferencing from. Additionally, members of the public must be allowed to participate in the meeting from the same location as that individual. This poses serious public safety concerns and discourages remote meetings. 

Proposed Brown Act modifications

In order to modernize the Brown Act and remedy these problems, two bills are moving through the Legislature that would allow council members to meet remotely without posting their location. They also remove the public participation in a non-public location requirement.

Both bills take different approaches but neither requires teleconferencing. Instead, they modernize existing law to encourage greater public participation during remote public meetings.  

Of the two, AB 1944 (Lee and Garcia, Cristina) offers the most flexibility and would allow city officials to hold remote public meetings without posting their location if the city council agrees to this by majority vote. The city must also have a livestream of the meeting available to the public and allow for virtual public participation.

Additionally, AB 1944 would require agendas to identify the members of a legislative body who will participate remotely and for agendas to be updated if a member decides to teleconference at the last-minute. This measure would sunset on Jan. 1, 2030. Cal Cities is in support of this bill.

AB 2449 (Rubio, Blanca) would also allow for city officials to hold remote public meetings without posting their location but with additional restrictions. Under AB 2449, city officials could meet remotely if at least a quorum of the legislative body participates in person from a singular location clearly identified on the agenda.

The location would have to be open to the public and situated within the boundaries of the local agency’s jurisdiction. It would also require all members attending the meeting remotely to participate through both audio and visual technology.

Additionally, the agenda would have to identify and include an opportunity for all persons to attend via a call-in or internet-based service option, and for members of the public to attend and address the legislative body at the in-person location of the meeting.

AB 2449 also specifies that remote meetings must be paused if there is any teleconference disruption — such as a lost Zoom connection — and would disallow requiring submission of comments in advance of the meeting. It also would create a procedure to receive and swiftly resolve requests for reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. 

Cal Cities has a support in concept position for AB 2449 given its additional restrictions and is continuing conversations with the author’s office and stakeholders.

AB 1944 and AB 2449 are both scheduled for their first committee hearing in Assembly Local Government Committee on May 4. For questions, please contact Legislative Affairs Lobbyist Johnnie Pina.