FAC opposes California bills that would reduce face-to-face accountability: Legislation would make government more remote

You may have seen the recent editorials sounding the alarms over legislation that would make California government less open and accountable by chipping away at our state’s open-meetings laws.

Los Angeles Times: “It’s time for California’s public officials to return to work. In person
Mercury News: “Stop Two Bay Area Legislators’ Assault on Open Government
Orange County Register: “Don’t Let Pols Duck Public Meetings”

We couldn’t agree more with these headlines.

FAC is working with a broad coalition to oppose an onslaught of pandemic-inspired legislation that puts convenience of public officials ahead of democratic principles of openness and accountability. Unfortunately, three of these bad bills that would create a future of policy-making by telephone are headed to final votes in the California legislature.

No on SB 544
SB 544, by Senator John Laird, would allow important state bodies, such as the California Public Utilities Commission, the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training and many more covered by the Bagley-Keene Act — to become faceless bureaucracies. The bill envisions a future where these powerful bodies could decide to meet entirely by telephone, without the guardrails that have long protected the public’s interest in accountability.

Recent amendments to SB 544 made in the face of growing opposition would require these bodies to have a quorum of members meet in person for 50 percent of their meetings. So openness and accountability, 50 percent of the time. Does that math sound fair to you?

No on SB 537 and SB 411
SB 544 isn’t the only bad bill. SB 537 gives a special Brown Act carve-out to some regional government bodies to make it easier for members to avoid attending meetings in person. SB 411 would allow the elected representatives of Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils to more easily avoid meeting in person.

California should be a leader in using technology and pandemic-inspired lessons to increase public access and participation. Instead, governmental interests are pushing legislation — again — that asks you to give up your seat at the table in exchange for a seat at a speakerphone.

If you are a California resident, contact your assemblymember and urge them to reject these bills.