COVID-19 and Open Meeting Laws
California Governor Issues Executive Order Cancelling Large Gatherings and Suspending Certain Portions of the Brown Act
Please See Update Posted March 18
Today, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency Executive Order to further the State’s efforts to control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and reduce and minimize the risk of infection. The Executive Order follows Newsom’s declaration of a statewide emergency last week. In addition to other measures, the Executive Order enables local government agencies to hold meetings telephonically or electronically and calls for the cancellation of all large or crowded public gatherings.
Specifically, the Order directs “all residents” to “heed any orders and guidance of state and local public health officials, including but not limited to the imposition of social distancing measures.” Yesterday the California Department of Public Health announced that, for the remainder of March, the following shall be postponed or canceled: large gatherings of 250 people or more, smaller gatherings if the venue does not allow social distancing of 6 feet or more and any gatherings of individuals who are at a higher risk of severe illness. Newsom’s Order acknowledges that the cancellation of such gatherings is not the fault or responsibility of the parties involved.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s sunshine law, generally requires that all meetings of local governing bodies be open and public. While the Brown Act allows for teleconference meetings, the meeting agenda must generally identify each teleconference location and each location must be available to the public. Under his emergency powers to suspend state law, Newsom ordered that local governing bodies may hold public meetings telephonically or electronically.
The local government agency must still provide one physical publicly accessible location where the public may observe the meeting and make public comments, but the members of the governing body and city staff do not have to be physically present at the public location, or even be in the jurisdiction. Additionally, the local government agency does not have to identify the teleconference locations of the participating board or council members, does not have to make such locations accessible to the public, and does not have to post agendas at teleconference locations.
The other provisions of the Brown Act remain in effect, particularly the rule that agendas must be posted in advance of the meetings. The timeframe for posting remains the same (i.e., 72 hours for regular meetings, 24 hours for special meetings). This limited suspension of the Brown Act will remain in effect “during the period in which state or local public officials impose or recommend measures to promote social distancing, including but not limited to limitations on public events.”
For more information, contact the authors of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group or your BB&K attorney.
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