On Sept. 13, 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill No. 2449, which modifies the Ralph M. Brown Act under which the local water districts, fire protection district and historical review board must conduct meetings open to the public. These modifications go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. (Pursuant to other bills previously enacted, additional modifications will take effect in January 2024 and January 2026.)
California’s Legislative Counsel has provided the following digest of Assembly Bill No. 2449 summarizing the changes:
“An act to amend, repeal, and add Sections 54953 and 54954.2 of the Government Code, relating to local government.
“AB 2449, Blanca Rubio. Open meetings: local agencies: teleconferences.
Existing law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, requires, with specified exceptions, that all meetings of a legislative body of a local agency, as those terms are defined, be open and public and that all persons be permitted to attend and participate. The act generally requires posting an agenda at least 72 hours before a regular meeting that contains a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, and prohibits any action or discussion from being undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda. The act authorizes a legislative body to take action on items of business not appearing on the posted agenda under specified conditions. The act contains specified provisions regarding providing for the ability of the public to observe and provide comment.
“The act allows for meetings to occur via teleconferencing subject to certain requirements, particularly that the legislative body notice each teleconference location of each member that will be participating in the public meeting, that each teleconference location be accessible to the public, that members of the public be allowed to address the legislative body at each teleconference location, that the legislative body post an agenda at each teleconference location, and that at least a quorum of the legislative body participate from locations within the boundaries of the local agency’s jurisdiction. The act provides an exemption to the jurisdictional requirement for health authorities, as defined.
“Existing law, until January 1, 2024, authorizes a local agency to use teleconferencing without complying with those specified teleconferencing requirements in specified circumstances when a declared state of emergency is in effect, or in other situations related to public health.
“This bill would revise and recast those teleconferencing provisions and, until January 1, 2026, would authorize a local agency to use teleconferencing without complying with the teleconferencing requirements that each teleconference location be identified in the notice and agenda and that each teleconference location be accessible to the public if at least a quorum of the members of the legislative body participates in person from a singular physical location clearly identified on the agenda that is open to the public and situated within the local agency’s jurisdiction. Under this exception, the bill would authorize a member to participate remotely under specified circumstances, including participating remotely for just cause or due to emergency circumstances. The emergency circumstances basis for remote participation would be contingent on a request to, and action by, the legislative body, as prescribed.
“The bill, until January 1, 2026, would authorize a legislative body to consider and take action on a request from a member to participate in a meeting remotely due to emergency circumstances if the request does not allow sufficient time to place the proposed action on the posted agenda for the meeting for which the request is made. The bill
would define terms for purposes of these teleconferencing provisions.
“This bill would impose prescribed requirements for this exception relating to notice, agendas, the means and manner of access, and procedures for disruptions. The bill would require the legislative body to implement a procedure for receiving and swiftly resolving requests for reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, consistent with federal law.
“Existing constitutional provisions require that a statute that limits the right of access to the meetings of public bodies or the writings of public officials and agencies be adopted with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest.
“This bill would make legislative findings to that effect.
“The California Constitution requires local agencies, for the purpose of ensuring public access to the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies, to comply with a statutory enactment that amends or enacts laws relating to public records or open meetings and contains findings demonstrating that the enactment furthers the constitutional requirements relating to this purpose.
“This bill would make legislative findings to that effect.”