Will Virtual Public Meetings Continue Even After the Pandemic?
Two New Bills Could Ease California’s Teleconferencing Restrictions for the Long-Term
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Legislature previously passed AB 361 to allow for streamlined teleconferencing under the Brown Act during times of local emergency. Over time, public agencies and the general public have become more comfortable with fewer teleconferencing rules and restrictions. There are now two new bills that, if signed into law, would provide agencies with greater ease and streamlining in teleconferencing for the foreseeable future.
AB 1944 – Simple Approach Allowing For Broader and More Flexible Teleconferencing
AB 1944 would provide continued privacy to members of legislative bodies who are teleconferencing from private locations. The following requirements would apply:
- Legislative bodies must provide the public with virtual access when teleconferencing.
- Agendas must identify the members of the legislative body who will participate remotely.
- Legislative bodies must update agendas if members make last-minute decisions to teleconference.
- Legislative bodies must provide the public with a live video stream and an option to submit virtual public comments.
- A quorum must participate from within the agency’s boundaries when teleconferencing, except under limited circumstances.
AB 1944 would authorize the legislative body to exempt itself by majority vote from the requirements that each teleconference location must be accessible to the public, and that their teleconference address be publicly identified in the notice and agenda. However, these exemptions would only apply when members of the legislative body teleconference from a non-public location (e.g. their home, a hotel, a hospital, etc.).
AB 1944 contains a Jan. 1, 2030 sunset for these provisions.
AB 2449 – More Complex Approach Allowing For Limited Teleconferencing
AB 2449 presents a more detailed approach to provide for similar goals as AB 1944. Generally, it only allows for relaxed teleconference rules “when a quorum of members participate in the meeting from a single public location,” meaning relaxed teleconferencing is only available to some members of the legislative body. So far, this bill has been less active than AB 1944.
AB 2449 would authorize relaxed teleconferencing procedures (meaning there would be no need to identify each teleconference location, post agendas at all teleconference locations, or allow the public to access the teleconference locations) if at least a quorum of the legislative body participates in-person at a single location identified on the agenda that is open to the public, and the legislative body follows certain requirements, including:
- Giving regular notice of the meeting and posting agendas as otherwise required by the Brown Act
- Teleconferencing members must use both audio and visual technology
- Allowing the public to access the meeting and provide comments, including by teleconference, and including teleconference instructions in all notifications and agendas for the meeting on how the public can attend and provide comment
- Pausing the meeting when there is any teleconference disruption
- Allowing for real-time public comments and not requiring submission of comments in advance of the meeting
- Creating and implementing a procedure for receiving and swiftly resolving requests for reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, and giving notice of this procedure in notifications and agendas for the meeting
AB 1944 and AB 2449 remain active as of publication of this Legal Alert, and have potential to become law. Best Best & Krieger will continue to track the progress of these bills and provide updates as appropriate.
Disclaimer: BBK Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts, facts specific to your situation or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information herein.