SACRAMENTO, CA – Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-25) and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-58) introduced AB 339 which would allow residents’ the ability to continue participating in government while staying socially distanced: through digital and remote participation for government hearings.
“Democratic governments work best when we have ALL voices at the table. Having your voice heard during legislative hearings or city council meetings are often limited to those who are able to take time out of their busy days to travel to meetings to speak in-person, and to those who speak and read English,” said Lee.
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. However, the pandemic has simultaneously illustrated how existing inequities such as lack of broadband access or translation services create barriers that prevent many from accessing this opportunity.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in public participation and political engagement with online teleconferencing options, especially after this last summer where millions of Americans realized the importance of raising their voices in the cause of racial justice,” said Lee. “However, it’s also important that we have options for people to engage in-person or through a call-based option for those that don’t have access to reliable internet.”
The proposed bill will:
- Enhance public participation at the state and local levels by ensuring that constituents have opportunities to join and comment at public meetings in-person, via a call-in option, and via an internet-based service option.
- Establish standards for posting both agendas and directions on joining meetings via teleconference technology in a timely manner and at an easily accessible location online.
- Expand translation services for major languages spoken by constituents, creating invaluable opportunities for non-English-speaking Californians to meaningfully engage in the democratic process.
“I am proud to be a joint author on the California Public Participation Act and applaud Assemblymember Lee for his leadership. My career in public service was launched by battling local government corruption and demanding greater accountability of elected officials and during my tenure I've continued to fight for good government reforms. Assemblymember Lee’s legislation is written in the same spirit. The bill takes into account changes in public behavior advanced by digital technology and accelerated by the COVID public health crisis. A strong democracy is a democracy where access for the public to engage is encouraged and information is shared with the public in a transparent manner that everyone can understand. This bill goes a long way to advance the goal of ethical and open government,” said Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens).
Linguistic, physical, and geographic isolation have hindered constituents from being able to fully exercise their civic duties, which in turn limits our governing bodies from achieving their full potential. English-only laws that exclude California immigrants do not align with the State’s values. In 2016, voters repealed Prop 227 and solidified our commitment to cultural and linguistic access. In the same spirit, AB 339 would protect the public’s access to government -- both during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Public participation in governmental affairs is at the core of our democracy. Without robust engagement from the public, there is no way to facilitate important discourse that shapes the policies that impact people and hold government accountable. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the long-standing linguistic, physical, and geographic barriers that prohibit equitable public participation in California. Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability is proud to be co-sponsoring AB 339, which aims to expand remote opportunities, interpretation services, and accessibility to participate in local and state government. AB 339 would allow California to once again lead the United States on progressive government practices by increasing opportunities to engage in local government. It would also empower some of our most marginalized neighbors to have a voice in our democracy for the first time. If California wants to be a model of justice, passing AB 339 is a step in the right direction."
“Local government is where most people directly interact with elected officials and government agencies,” said Kevin Baker, Director of Legislative Affairs for the ACLU in California. “If local governments are not transparent or responsive to their residents, democracy does not work. Especially in times of crisis, people need to understand the decisions of their elected officials and be given a real opportunity to provide feedback to their representatives. AB 339 will protect the public’s access to government and strengthen our democracy.”
Assemblymember Alex Lee sits on the Budget Committee as well as the Committees on Education, Transportation, Privacy & Consumer Protection, and Rules. He represents the 25th Assembly District which includes the cities of Fremont, Newark, Milpitas, San Jose, and Santa Clara.
Assemblymember Cristina Garcia represents the 58th Assembly District which includes the cities of Montebello, Pico Rivera, Commerce, Bell Gardens, Downey, Norwalk, Bellflower, Cerritos and Artesia.