Lawmakers in California are using the experience of teleconferences due to the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to permanently cut off public access to key government committees.
in April, we warned On Rep. Diane Papin (San Mateo Democrat)’s thorny bill to keep local officials, including the city council and school board, out of public meetings.Congress delays consideration Congress Bill 1379 Until next year.
Meanwhile, another Bay Area legislator likewise voted for powerful state agency committees such as the Public Utilities Commission, the Air Resources Commission, the Coastal Commission, the Parole Trial Commission, and the Commission on Standards and Training for Peace Officers. Attempting to block public access to the conference.
If Senator John Laird (D, Santa Cruz) gets his way, Senate Bill 544, commissioners can really get a call in making decisions about everything from setting PG&E fees to protecting shorelines to disciplining bad cops. And members of the public who want to attend the meeting may be left in an empty room to hear the decision maker’s voice coming through the speakers. The Senate passed Laird’s bill in May, and Congress is preparing to consider it.
These two bills are an affront to Proposition 59, the 2004 initiative passed by California voters. This proposal enshrines the mandate of open government into the state constitution. Meetings of public bodies and documents of public officials and government agencies shall be subject to public scrutiny. “
The two bills also undermine the principles of California’s first public meeting laws: the Ralph M. Brown Act for local governments and the Bagley Keane Act for state commissions. These laws are intended to ensure that government employees perform their duties in public and to ensure that they perform their government duties. Voters can observe their activities.
The Brown Act was signed into law in 1953 in response to reports that elected officials often held public affairs in private. At that time, for example, city council members scrutinized decisions in advance and often simply formalized them without even discussing them in public meetings.
we must not retreat.
But that’s what Papan and Laird let us do. They advocate allowing board members, in fact the entire board at the same time, to participate in regular public meetings remotely by telephone. You don’t even have to participate by video. They never have to show their faces.
In public health emergencies involving highly contagious viruses, video participation by civil servants makes sense. However, it is not suitable as a permanent practice for participation.
As we learned during the pandemic, key interactions in local government decision-making processes were lost during remote meetings. Community groups were unable to quantify their support in terms of the number of people who showed up. The public and media were not able to approach the board or staff to ask questions before or after the meeting.
The nuanced exchanges between elected representatives in formulating policy compromises were hidden from public view. Some officials turned off their cameras and went into hiding. Voters often didn’t even know if their representatives were paying attention.
There are certainly good reasons for board members to participate remotely. Some may have health issues or family emergencies that require video conferencing. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
Last year, a coalition of open government advocates and state legislators signed a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that balances the need for transparency with the justification for remote participation.
Congressional Bill 2449 limits remote participation of board members to no more than three consecutive months or 20% of annual meetings. At a minimum, a quorum of members of a legislative body must participate from a single public place open to the public, such as a city council chamber.
This is a reasonable balance of maintaining public access while accepting legal and limited exceptions for board members to participate remotely.
That’s not what Papan and Laird suggest. Legislators should permanently repeal both bills.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/07/11/editorial-stop-two-bay-area-legislators-assault-on-open-government/ Stop two Bay Area lawmakers from attacking open government