FAC Opposes Legislation that Would Weaken Public Oversight of Government Officials in California 

It’s about accountability

We are writing to alert you to legislation pending in California that would take the wrong lesson from the pandemic and weaken open-government laws under the guise of increasing remote access to meetings.

The most problematic provisions undermine the democratic values of open government and oversight of our public institutions for the convenience of politicians — allowing public officials to do the public’s business from private locations that are neither identified nor accessible to the public. And they’d be able to do this without showing any need or justification. 

Being able to see your elected representatives in person as they debate police funding, mask mandates, teacher compensation and the like is fundamental to our democratic values. State law already allows officials to appear remotely at meetings under some circumstances when necessary without any of the bills pending before the Legislature.

While the First Amendment Coalition has been a vocal supporter of mandated remote access to public meetings, these bills would make elected officials less accessible and therefore less accountable.  

We encourage any concerned Californian to raise your voice and let your assembly member know you demand that public meetings be held in public venues where government officials can be seen and engaged by the public and the press. 

— David Snyder, Ginny LaRoe, David Loy, Monica Price

AB 1944: A Bill Fundamentally Changing the Brown Act

The First Amendment Coalition strongly opposes California Assembly Bill 1944, which would abolish longstanding democratic protections that require public meetings to be held in public venues where government officials can be seen and engaged by the public and press. While the bill includes some provisions that may expand access for members of the public who wish to participate in public meetings — a plus — the cost to democratic principles and public protection is too great. 

Among our concerns: 

  • It would allow local bodies to conduct all public business from private locations – not identified, or accessible to the public, or even within the state – without need or justification. 
  • While temporary accommodations, such as to address public health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and individual accommodations, such as for disability or medical need, are appropriate, this bill is overbroad and throws out democratic protections.

Throughout the pandemic, FAC has championed modernizing access to public meetings and other government proceedings. In 2021, FAC provided testimony in support of AB 339, brought by the same assembly member. But AB 1944 would weaken public oversight of our local leaders in ways we cannot support.

  • FAC’s position: OPPOSED
  • Author: Assemblymember Alex Lee, D-San Jose
  • Next step: The bill could be voted on by the Assembly as early as next week
  • Track the bill: AB 1944

Tell your assembly member “no” on AB 1944. 

AB 2449: A Bill Changing the Brown Act

This bill also amends the Brown Act for more flexible teleconferencing, but it has important guardrails: It requires government bodies to maintain a quorum in one physical location that is accessible to the public — a provision essential for government accountability. While the bill, as introduced, contains some provisions that are problematic for maintaining the Brown Act’s transparency protections, the author has committed to making positive amendments.

  • FAC position: WATCH 
  • Author: Assemblymember Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park
  • Next step: The bill could be voted on by the Assembly as early as next week
  • Track the bill: AB 2449

AB 1773: A Bill Overhauling the Bagley-Keene Act

This bill completely reforms the Bagley-Keene Act, governing all state agencies and boards, indefinitely. While the bill institutes provisions for virtual public meetings, a concept FAC has vocally supported to increase public access and oversight, it changes the definition of meetings to include those that are completely remote. This means that state agencies and boards would no longer have to meet in person in a location that is accessible to the public. For the first time, state open-meeting laws would allow bodies to conduct their meetings entirely in the cloud. This undermines one of the key tenets of open-meetings laws: that the public has a right not just to see their leaders conduct the public’s business, but to see those leaders in person and in a public space where officials can’t hide behind a malfunctioning or turned-off video camera. 

  • FAC position: OPPOSED
  • Next step: It’s unclear when the bill will be heard by a committee, if at all. It is not subject to typical legislative deadlines because it contains an “urgency” clause.
  • Author: Assemblymember Bill Quirk, D-Hayward
  • Track the bill: AB 1733

Other bills we’re tracking: 

  • AB 2370: Retention of public records maintained by state agencies SUPPORT
  • SB 1000: Preserving and restoring access to police radio traffic SUPPORT