AB 2449 – Revises The Brown Act’s Requirements For Public Meeting By Teleconference

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room, Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education, Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Oct 19, 2022

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ralph M. Brown Act had strict requirements for the legislative bodies of local agencies to meet by teleconference. Among other restrictions, all teleconference locations had to be identified in the notice and agenda of the meeting, and each teleconference location had to be accessible to the public. In addition, at least a quorum of the legislative body had to be present within the boundaries of the local agency.

In March of 2020, the Governor issued an executive order temporarily waiving some of these restrictions. The Legislature followed up the Governor’s executive order with AB 361, which provided a statutory exception, authorizing local agencies to use teleconferencing without complying with all of the Brown Act’s restrictions in specified circumstances related to public health and safety emergencies. By the terms of AB 2449, this authorization will sunset and expire on January 1, 2024.

AB 2449 does not extend AB 361, which still sunsets on January 1, 2024. Instead, the bill implements another temporary exception authorizing agencies to meet by teleconference without strict compliance with the traditional notice and physical access requirements. Notably, where AB 361 is based on an agency’s need for teleconferencing, AB 2449’s new framework is based on the circumstances of individual members of the legislative body.

Beginning January 1, 2023, the legislative body of a local agency can use teleconferencing without noticing each teleconference location or making it publicly accessible, provided at least a quorum of the body participates in person at a single physical location that is identified on the agenda, open to the public, and within the boundaries of the agency, and provided that other requirements regarding accessibility are met. However, an individual member of the legislative body may participate remotely only in one of two circumstances:

  1. With “just cause”, the member can participate remotely after giving notice as soon as possible. AB 2449 defines “just cause” as (a) a family childcare or caregiving need; (b) a contagious illness; (c) a need related to a physical or mental disability that is not otherwise accommodated; or (d) travel while on official business. The bill also limits a member to participating remotely under this provision to two meetings per calendar year.
  2. In “emergency circumstances,” defined as a physical or family emergency that prevents the member from attending in person, the member can participate remotely by requesting approval to do so from the legislative body. The legislative body may take action on the request as soon as possible, including at the beginning of the meeting, even if there was not sufficient time to place the request formally on the agenda.

Under either circumstance, the member in question must give a general description of the circumstances relating to their need to appear remotely, but need not disclose any medical diagnosis, disability, or other confidential medical information.

In addition, AB 2449 provides that a member cannot participate solely by teleconference under the new teleconference framework for more than 3 consecutive months or more than 20 percent of the agency’s regular meetings (more than two meetings if the agency meets fewer than 10 times per year).

Outside of the limited circumstances authorized by AB 2449 (and until January 2024, AB 361) public meetings can still occur via teleconference if the legislative body complies with the general (pre-pandemic) agenda, notice, and quorum requirements of the Brown Act.

The new statutory authorization expires by its own terms on January 1, 2026. At that point, absent further legislation, the Brown Act’s teleconferencing provisions will revert to essentially the same language as before the pandemic.

(AB 2449 amends Sections 54953 and 54954.2 of the Government Code.)

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