Legislation increasing public access to local government meetings advances in California Assembly

Legislation that would extend many public meeting changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was approved in a California Assembly Committee on Wednesday by a unanimous vote.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 339, would require many city councils and county commissioner meetings in California to be not only televised but allow for offsite public participation. The bill is sponsored by 25th District freshman Assemblymember Alex Lee (D - San Jose). 

The hearing held in the Local Government committee meeting drew the support of dozens of advocacy groups statewide, ranging from Hmong Innovative Politics to the American Civil Liberties Union and several local elected officials. Opposition was led by groups like the Califonia Leauge of Cities and other agencies representing local government districts in California.

The representative for the League of California Cities argued while their group sponsored the landmark Ralph E. Brown act that governs meetings and supports open government meetings, the law unfairly targets local municipalities while larger government agencies will be exempt.

"Even if the bill is amended as proposed, this will still create a higher standard that is above and beyond state agencies and legislators required to provide for public comment once the state of emergency is lifted," said LCC representative Bijan Mehryar said. 

The bill, as passed by the committee, has several amendments from the original text. Chief among them is the law would only apply to cities and counties with more than 250,000 people (see video for other changes).

The bill advances to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. 

In his closing comments to the committee, Lee noted the pandemic has increased public participation in meetings and has proved the public can access their government by other means. 

"I think the silver lining to the pandemic has shown that governments can be more accessible using the technology we have as evidenced today it means a lot to a lot of people," Lee said. 

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