Yesterday, AB 1944 by Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San José) passed out of the Local Government Committee and is now headed to the Assembly Floor. AB 1944 would allow remote participation for members of the public to continue as well as allow members of a local legislative body to waive Brown Act requirements of publishing their private addresses in order to empower more people to participate in their local governments. The bill was amended to include a seven year sunset.
“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. “We must allow working class officials and the public to continue to use these tools to make democracy accessible for all.”
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 may only vote to allow for the waived teleconference requirements under a declared state of emergency. Outside of a declared state of emergency, local elected officials who choose to teleconference are required to make private addresses publicly known and accessible to the public.
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 these private address open and accessible to members of the public.
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 their local government
By providing livestreams and call-in or video options for public participation, the bill 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 when 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.
Testifying on behalf of Disability Rights California in support of the bill, Gregory Cramer stated, “AB 1944 will benefit disabled elected officials and would empower disabled Californians to run for public office without fear of compromising their health or well-being. Disabled people should have the opportunity to participate virtually as attendees or as policymakers, and should be involved in all decision-making positions at all levels of governments.”
The bill is supported by numerous cities, counties, and organizations including San José, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Mountain View, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, Lafayette, Hillsborough, Disability Rights California, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the League of California Cities, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County, the California Association of Counties, the California School Boards Association, and the California Charter Schools Association.