FAC applauds defeat of AB 817

The First Amendment Coalition shared news about a legislative victory it believes is crucial to government accountability and civic engagement.

In a bipartisan vote, a committee of the California Legislature voted down AB 817, keeping in place important public-meeting protections.

As FAC shared last week, it opposed AB 817 because it would have excused a wide range of government bodies governed by the Brown Act to meet entirely virtually, without regard to emergencies or specific needs of those who choose to perform public service.

Newspaper editorial boards sounded the alarms, too: The Mercury News condemned it as a “another step toward local government secrecy,” and the Los Angeles Times rightly noted “the Legislature has poked enough holes in local governmental meeting requirements already.”

While this bill failed, the issue isn’t going away. Governmental interests have backed a number of pandemic-inspired bills (20232022) that would allow officials to avoid meeting in person without following longstanding accountability rules.

FAC thinks the future of public meetings should include virtual and in-person options for the press and public. And any additional levels of flexibility for those who choose to perform public service must be narrowly tailored to specific needs, rather than granting an excuse note for any number of officials who want to phone it in.