By DAN WALTERS, CalMatters
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of our lives, mostly in the negative, and one effect is disconnecting California’s public officials from their constituents.
Local and state agencies, including the Legislature, shifted meetings from in-person venues to on-line substitutes, having received permission from Gov. Gavin Newsom, in one of his many pandemic-related decrees, to ignore portions of California’s long-standing open meeting laws, such as the 1953 Ralph M. Brown Act.
In theory, digital governance is just as accessible and responsive as the physical version, but in reality it isn’t. Not only is the technology cumbersome and sometimes inoperable, but it assumes that everyone has access to computers and the internet, which is not true.
However, it appears that California’s elected officials like putting physical distance between themselves and those they serve with the power to more easily limit or even shut down public comment on the issues before them.
That’s why many local agencies are supporting legislation that would modify the Brown Act and extend their ability to meet remotely with little or no physical access to their sessions.
Their primary vehicle for that extension, Assembly Bill 1944 by Assemblyman Alex Lee, a San Jose Democrat, passed the Assembly but after receiving harsh criticism from media and civil rights groups, has seemingly stalled in a Senate committee.
“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,” a coalition of media, civil rights and taxpayer groups declared.
However, a more limited version of institutionalizing electronic meetings, Assembly Bill 2449 by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, a West Covina Democrat, also has passed the Assembly and is close to reaching the Senate floor.
Read ‘Politicians Punch Holes in California’s Sunshine Laws’ on CalMatters.
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