California’s Open Meeting Laws (transcript)

Today’s podcast is an overview of local and state open meeting laws here California. California has three types of open meeting laws that apply to local and state governmental entities.

These laws have been adopted over a number of years, and they equally apply to state agencies and departments, the Legislature, and local entities.

The open meeting acts are generally referred to Bagley‑Keene, LOMA, and Brown Act. What do all those mean, and to whom do they apply?

The Bagley‑Keene Act applies to state entities, the LOMA applies to the Legislature, and the Brown Act applies to local entities. You need to be aware of all three laws so that you can properly participate and be aware of what is happening at local and state governments and the meetings of relevant legislative and executive branch entities.

The Bagley‑Keene Open Meeting Law, generally referred to as “Bagley‑Keene,” was adopted by the State Legislature in 1967, and essentially implements relevant provisions of the California Constitution which requires meeting of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies to be open to public scrutiny.

What’s the practical impact of Bagley‑Keene? The Bagley‑Keene Open Meetings Act is applicable to state agencies and departments. The act requires that members of the public be able to address agenda items in public meetings of different state agencies and departments.

Of course, before one has the ability to comment on such agenda items, the public has to be made aware of meetings of these state agencies.

As a result, the notice of state agencies or department meetings must be provided to any person who makes such a request ‑‑ an interested party ‑‑ in writing, at least, 10 days in advance of the meetings of those state entities.

As you would imagine, those notices must include a specific agenda, the items of business to be transacted or discussed by the state entity, and no item can be added to the agenda after the notice has been issued.

Now, there are some instances where state entities can take action on items of business that were not on the agenda, but that’s in certain limited circumstances. Basically, it’s limited to the instances where a majority voted that state entity has deemed an emergency situation to exist.

As you can also imagine, the Bagley‑Keene Open Meeting Act requires all state agencies to conduct any meetings or functions in any of their facilities. It cannot occur where there’s any prohibition on admittance of people for protected classifications.

By the way, if Bagley‑Keene is violated, the decision of a body could be overturned so long as it’s challenged within 90 days. Of course, violations can be stopped or prevented by court action.

Next up is LOMA, the Legislative Open Meetings Act. That’s also in the Government Code like Bagley‑Keene, and it binds the California Legislature.

Now, be aware of a couple of things when it comes to LOMA. Caucuses of the Legislature ‑‑ party caucuses, Democrat and Republican in both houses ‑‑ have full authority to meet in closed session. Remember, state agencies have very limited authority to meet in closed sessions unless it’s for a specified exception, like litigation or personnel actions. That’s not applicable to legislative caucuses.

Legislators can meet informally, outside of committee hearings and floor sessions, to discuss policies so long as no formal actions are taken, and so long as less than a majority of the body is involved.

Last is the Ralph M. Brown Act which was adopted in 1953. The Brown Act applies to open meetings of counties and cities. It’s found also in the Government Code, around Section 54950.

Now, the purpose of the Brown Act is to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in the meetings of local elected bodies. It applies to city councils, the board of supervisors, and local government bodies so that they can’t hold secret workshops or study sessions.

Keep in mind that the Brown Act applies solely to city and county governments, as well as their agencies, boards, councils, etc.

What are some of the major provisions? The majorities of decision‑making bodies may not decide amongst themselves on issues within their own jurisdiction, except when they’re done so in open and publicly held meetings.

As a result of the Brown Act, local agencies have to publicize where and when their meetings will occur, as well as what will be discussed on the agenda. Of course, then the public can observe those meetings.

Now, at the local level, the Brown Act requires 72 hours or 3 days’ notice. Remember, that’s different than the Bagley‑Keene Act which requires 10 days’ notice. No action can be taken by those local bodies unless an item’s been placed on the agenda for consideration.