Brown Act Modifications in Response to Coronavirus Outbreak

Gov. Gavin Newsom waived certain provisions of the Bagley-Keene Act and Ralph M. Brown Act to make state and local legislative bodies safer while allowing California public entities to conduct business.

In an effort to promote social distancing and slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic Gov. Newsom issued Executive Order N-25-20. The Executive Order authorizes state and local legislative bodies, such as school district and county office of education governing boards, to more easily hold public meetings by way of teleconference. The order took further steps to make public meetings accessible to the public via electronic means, including telephone.

The Brown Act generally requires legislative body members, a clerk, or other personnel to be physically present in a meeting in order to participate or establish a quorum. Executive Order N-25-20 temporarily eliminates this requirement. Furthermore, standard Brown Act requirements such as publicly noticing the teleconference location for each meeting participant is also suspended. Clearly, this is an attempt to protect the public, as well as Board members and staff, by temporarily discouraging large group settings in the conduct of the public’s business.

Nevertheless, local bodies must continue to give advance notice of public meetings in accordance with the time frame set forth in the Bagley-Keene, and Brown Acts. Additionally, the local body must make one public setting available from which members of the public shall have the right to watch the meeting and offer public comment at the meeting. The Executive Order encourages all state and local bodies to, “use sound discretion and to make reasonable efforts to adhere as closely as possible to the provisions of the Bagley-Keene Act and Brown Act, and other local laws regulating the conduct of public meetings, in order to maximize transparency and provide the public access to their meetings.” While Gov. Newsom’s order is clearly a sound response to the public health crisis, the Brown Act’s emphasis on governmental discourse and transparency remains steadfast by not eliminating any sanctions for Brown Act violations.

This document is intended to provide you with information about trending public entity related legal developments. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have questions about the contents of this alert, please contact the authors below. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions.

March 16, 2020