Legal Alerts Mar 25, 2019

Your Special District Must Have a Website — and it Should be ADA Compliant

California’s SB 929 Imposes New Requirements

Special District Website Requirements
Every California independent special district is required to maintain a website by Jan. 1, 2020. Senate Bill 929 added Government Code sections 6270.6 and 53087.8 to provide the public easily accessible and accurate information about the district. Government Code section 53087.8 lists what must be included in the website. Unfortunately, it has several references to other sections of the Code, and there is not enough room in this article to list them all. Therefore, you will need to go through each section to determine what must be included on your district’s website, and it’s always advisable to seek legal advice if you have questions.
There is an exception to the website requirement. A special district does not have to have a website if, with a majority vote of its governing body at a regular meeting, the district adopts a resolution declaring that a hardship exists that prevents it from establishing or maintaining a website. The resolution adopted under this exception must include detailed findings based on evidence included in the meeting’s minutes that support the board’s determination. Examples of hardship include inadequate access to broadband network facilities, significantly limited financial resources, or insufficient staff resources. Finally, the resolution is only valid for one year. To continue to be exempt, the governing body must adopt a resolution pursuant to this exception every year so long as the hardship exists.
Assembly Bill 2257 amends Government Code section 54954.2 to state that if your district already has a website, the board’s agenda must be posted on the website for all meetings occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2019. The website must post a direct link to the current agenda. The agenda must be a) downloadable, indexable and searchable, b) independent and machine readable and c) available to the public free of charge without restrictions. Alternatively, the district may have a webpage dedicated to the agenda that contains the same information.
Website Accessibility Under the ADA and the California Unruh Act
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and its California equivalent, the Unruh Act, your district’s website should also be accessible to people with disabilities. Title II of the ADA applies to state and local government entities, and protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs and activities provided by state and local government entities. Title II extends the prohibition on discrimination established by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to all activities of state and local governments, regardless of whether these entities receive federal financial assistance.
Several courts have interpreted the ADA to apply to websites and, recently, a California state court ruled that the Unruh Act also applied to websites. Unfortunately, the ADA itself does not directly mention websites, and there are no regulatory rules or guidance to define website accessibility standards. However, the federal Department of Justice previously cited to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 as acceptable standards for accessibility. Additionally, the U.S. Access Board updated section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to reflect WCAG 2.0 standards. More importantly, the courts have begun referring to WCAG 2.0 level AA as the standard. WCAG 2.0 includes many different criteria at three different levels of accessibility, ranging from high-contrast color schemes to closed captions for video content.
In short, your district website should meet the standards of WCAG 2.0 level AA. Unless you have a staff member who is highly proficient in website design, hire a website consultant to confirm your website is compliant. Your consultant should know what WCAG 2.0 is. If they do not, then it is suggested that you find a new website consultant. Finally, to minimize liability, have your website consultant certify that your website is WCAG 2.0 AA compliant.
For more information about this legislation and how it may impact your agency, contact the author of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Special Districts practice group or your BB&K attorney.
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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

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