Governor Plans to Lift COVID-19 State of Emergency, Limiting Agencies’ Ability to Meet Remotely
Brown Act Teleconference Meetings
The Brown Act allows an agency's governing board to use any type of teleconferencing in connection with any meeting. However, outside of emergency circumstances, a teleconference meeting must comply with the following requirements:
- At least a quorum of the board must participate from locations within the agency’s jurisdiction.
- Each teleconference location must be identified in the notice and agenda of the meeting.
- Agendas must be posted at each teleconference location.
- Each location must be accessible to the public.
- The agenda must provide the opportunity for the public to address the legislative body directly at each teleconference location.
- All votes must be by roll call.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Newsom issued Executive Orders lifting several of these requirements to allow agencies to hold public meetings while complying with shelter-in-place orders and social distancing recommendations. In September 2021, the Governor signed AB 361, which effectively incorporated those Executive Orders into the Brown Act. Under AB 361, an agency can hold fully remote or hybrid teleconference meetings without meeting the access and notice requirements listed above, provided that: First, the Governor has declared a state of emergency, and second, either
- State or local officials have imposed or recommended measures to promote social distancing; or
- The legislative body finds that meeting in person would present imminent risks to health or safety of attendees.
Therefore, once the COVID State of Emergency is lifted, which is now expected to occur on February 28, 2023, agencies will no longer have the necessary authority to hold AB 361 virtual meetings as a result of COVID-19.
AB 361 is set to expire December 31, 2023, which date will become important if the Governor opts to postpone lifting the State of Emergency or if a subsequent State of Emergency is enacted.
Roughly coinciding with the lifting of the current State of Emergency, effective January 1, 2023, AB 2449 will give individual members of legislative bodies increased flexibility to participate in meetings via teleconference in the event of a personal emergency. Unlike AB 361, AB 2449 procedures do not require a state of emergency declaration, but the provisions are so onerous that they the law is not likely to be a practical alternative for most local agency officials or for agencies that would like to continue to meet virtually as a matter of practice. Click here for further discussion of the changes prescribed in AB 2449.
AB 2449's rules will remain in effect through 2025. After January 1, 2026, unless further legislation is adopted, only the pre-pandemic, traditional Brown Act teleconference rules will remain in effect.
Though not relevant to teleconferencing, the Governor has also signed AB 2647, which amends the Brown Act provisions on making agenda materials available to the public in the days leading up to governing body meetings. Click here for further discussion of AB 2647.
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