Governor Newsom Signs Senate Bill 1100 into Law, Amending the Brown Act to Add a Provision Addressing Public Decorum Standards at Open Meetings

CATEGORY: Special Bulletins
CLIENT TYPE: Nonprofit, Private Education, Public Education, Public Employers, Public Safety
PUBLICATION: LCW Special Bulletin
DATE: Aug 30, 2022

Last week, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 1100 (SB 1100) into law.  SB 1100 amends the Ralph M. Brown Act (Brown Act) to provide clarification regarding the authority of a local agency’s governing body to remove a disruptive member of the public from an open meeting, in order to maintain order during the meeting.  The California Legislature enacted SB 1100 partially in response to an escalation of threats made against public officials during open meetings, as agencies sought to enact restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, as well as arising from public conversations and debate regarding systemic racism and LGBTQ+ rights.  The Legislature noted that governing bodies have, at times, had to end meetings as a result of disruptive behavior.  SB 1100 aims to protect the public and public officials from threats and ensure that public access is not impeded by disruptive behavior.

The Brown Act currently permits a governing body to enact reasonable regulations governing public participation at open meetings, but forbids governing bodies from prohibiting “public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body.”  SB 1100 clarifies that despite such a prohibition, there are certain circumstances under which a governing body may remove a member of the public from a meeting.

Specifically, SB 1100 adds Section 54957.95 to the Government Code, effective January 1, 2023.  Under this amendment to the Brown Act, when a member of the public is disruptive in a meeting, a governing body must warn them that their behavior is disruptive and that if they do not stop their behavior, the governing body may remove them from the meeting.  If the member of the public does not promptly cease their behavior, the governing body’s presiding member or their designee may order their removal.  SB 1100 defines disruptive behavior as behavior that “actually disrupts, disturbs, impedes, or renders infeasible the orderly conduct of the meeting,” including but not limited to, behavior that, (1) violates one of the governing body’s regulations addressing the conduct of open meetings, or (2) a reasonable observer would perceive as a threat to use force by that member of the public.  In enacting SB 1100, the Legislature sought to balance concerns regarding public decorum and protecting public officials’ safety, with the public’s rights to free speech and assembly under the State and Federal Constitutions.

While SB 1100 does not go into effect until January 1, 2023, agencies can prepare now to implement the clarifications that SB 1100 makes to a governing body’s statutory authority to regulate public decorum.  Notably, SB 1100’s legislative declarations make clear that the Bill codifies the standards that govern public meetings under Acosta v. City of Costa Mesa (9th Cir. 2013) 718 F3d 800, 811.  In Acosta, the Court stated that a municipality may regulate an actual disturbance of a meeting, but it cannot just define a disturbance as “any violation of its rules of decorum.”  Consistent with Acosta, so long as a public agency maintains reasonable regulations governing public disturbances at open meetings, those regulations will likely comply with both the current, as well as the newly amended version of the Brown Act.  For example, current regulations that permit the removal of a disruptive member of the public absent a warning are likely unreasonable under both Acosta and SB 1100.

Agencies should consider reviewing their current regulations in anticipation of January 1, 2023.

LCW can assist with any questions about the Brown Act, California and Federal Constitutional considerations, and any potential effects SB 1100 may have on your agency.

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