A&A: Identifying self while making public comment

Identifying self while making public comment

Q: Does a member of the public have to identify themselves before commenting?  Can they be refused if they do not?

A: The Brown Act provides that “[e]very agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on items of interest to the public that are within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.”  Ca. Govt. Code Section 54954.3(a).  The Brown Act also provides that “[t]he legislative body of a local agency may adopt reasonable regulations to ensure that the intent [of providing an opportunity for every member of the public to address the body] is carried out, including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker.”  Cal. Govt. Code Section 54954.3(b).

Requiring meeting attendees to give their name and address before speaking would seem to run afoul of section 54953.3 of the Brown Act, which provides that:

“[a] member of the public shall not be required, as a condition to attendance at a meeting of a legislative body . . . to register his or her name, to provide other information, to complete a questionnaire, or otherwise to fulfill any condition precedent to his or her attendance.  If an attendance list, register, questionnaire, or other similar document is posted at or near the entrance to the room where the meeting is to be held, or is circulated to the persons present . . . it shall state clearly that the signing, registering, or completion of the document is voluntary, and that all persons may attend the meeting regardless of whether a person signs, registers, or completes the document.”

Although, this section states that giving information cannot be a prerequisite to “attendance” at a meeting (versus giving “public testimony” at a meeting), it seems reasonable that giving such information should also not be a prerequisite to commenting at a meeting.  We are not aware, however, of any authority applying Section
54953.3 to the right to give public testimony.

Based on the information in your submission, requiring a member of the public to give their name and address before commenting at the meeting does not appear to be a reasonable regulation on public comment.