California Bill Would Allow Local Government Bodies to Meet Online

California Bill Would Allow Local Government Bodies to Meet Online

Assemblywoman Blanca Pacheco at the Los Angeles Equality Awards on Oct. 14, 2024. (Rich Polk/@polkimaging)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

6/7/2024

Updated: 6/11/2024

0

A California bill reintroduced this year could allow certain government boards, commissions and advisory bodies to hold their meetings online, which supporters say would boost citizen participation.
Assembly Bill 817, introduced by Assemblywoman Blanca Pacheco, would allow non-decision-making legislative bodies to meet virtually with few restrictions.
“We can and must address barriers to entry to achieve diverse participation and representation in civic leadership,” Ms. Pacheco said in a May 31 Senate Local Government analysis of the bill.
The bill failed to pass the Senate Local Government Committee on June 5 but was granted a reconsideration.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, when new laws eased restrictions on how meetings are held, teleconferencing has become more popular in California.
In 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 361, which allows local agencies to use teleconferencing without providing a meeting location during state-declared emergencies.
The Legislature also enacted AB 2449 in 2022, authored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, which gave members of legislative bodies more flexibility to attend meetings virtually for “just cause” and “emergency circumstances,” according to the recent bill analysis.
While current law already allows for remote meetings under special circumstances, Ms. Pacheco’s bill would allow the subsidiary bodies of a main legislative body to hold their meetings remotely without any specific reason.
If passed, AB 817 would sunset on Jan. 1, 2026, alongside AB 2449, unless extended.
Lawmakers with the Senate Local Government committee warned in their analysis that the exemption for subsidiary bodies could encourage other legislative bodies to also ask for more flexibility.
They said that such exemptions actually limit public access to organizations which “serve an important role advising local agencies.”
Opponents of the bill say it could also reduce accountability. The First Amendment Coalition wrote in a press release that remote meetings distance officials from the community.
“Consider what an all-virtual government meeting means for community members who make their voices heard on issues using tried-and-true tactics like holding signs, wearing matching shirts or buttons, staging protests outside halls of power, or even holding eye contact with officials,” they wrote in a June 3 statement.
“AB 817 doesn’t increase public access. It offers an unfair trade off: Let officials avoid appearing in person in order for the public to have a right to a livestream,” they wrote.
But according to the League of California Cities, which supports the bill, advisory boards and commissions struggle to recruit and retain the volunteers they have, for reasons such as time commitments, physical limitations, childcare requirements, and work obligations.
In a January press release in support of the bill, league officials said remote meetings during the pandemic had increased public participation and made them more accessible even to the members holding the meetings.
“The increased flexibility created opportunities for public officials and concerned citizens alike who were previously unable to attend public meetings to participate,” they wrote.
Ms. Pacheco introduced AB 817 last year, but the bill did not advance to the Senate.
Amendments will require remote meetings to provide an in-person location for public comment and to ensure at least one member of the legislative body remains in attendance, according to the bill’s text.
Other opponents include the California News Publishers Association, California Broadcasters Association, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Media Alliance, and some news-related organizations.
Those in support include multiple government agencies including the Orange County Water District, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, San Diego Community Forest Advisory Board, County of Yolo, Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, and others.
Copy
facebooktwitterlinkedintelegram
Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

Author

Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

Author's Selected Articles
California Insider
Sign up here for our email newsletter!
©2024 California Insider All Rights Reserved. California Insider is a part of Epoch Media Group.