Only three months ago, the Globe reported that State Capitol leadership was still requiring social distancing in committee hearing rooms, greatly diminishing available seating for lobbyists and members of the public, and denying many access to their elected representatives – despite the Covid pandemic moving into endemic status, and masking requirements being lifted.
Senators and Assembly Members were all back in person, sitting shoulder to shoulder in chambers on the Senate and Assembly floor and on the daises, but not allowing members of the public and lobbyists to do the same.
Yet California Gov. Gavin still refuses to relinquish his 890 day-Covid State of Emergency, negatively affecting nearly every Californian.
Public access to California lawmakers is still curbed under these ongoing Covid rules inside of the State Capitol, city and county boards and school boards, serving to shackle California’s voters and taxpayers from their elected public officials.
Autocratic legislators appear to like this arrangement. And some took it even further.
Senate Bill 1100, authored by Sen. Dave Cortese (D-Silicon Valley) and Assemblyman Evan Low’s (D-Silicon Valley), authorizes the presiding member of a legislative body conducting a meeting to remove an individual for disrupting the meeting.
“Two key parts of the Brown Act have not changed since its adoption in 1953. One is the Brown Act’s initial section, declaring the Legislature’s intent:
“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”1
The people reconfirmed that intent 50 years later in the November 2004 election by adopting Proposition 59, amending the California Constitution to include a public right of access to government information:
“The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”2
The Brown Act’s other unchanged provision is a single sentence:
“All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public, and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”3
That one sentence is by far the most important of the entire Brown Act. If the opening is the soul, that sentence is the heart of the Brown Act.”
SB 1100 Defines “disrupting” as engaging in behavior that actually disrupts, disturbs, impedes, or renders infeasible the orderly conduct of the meeting and includes, but is not limited to:
a) A failure to comply with reasonable and lawful regulations adopted by a legislative body pursuant to existing law.
b) Engaging in behavior that includes the use of force or true threats of force.
This sounds flagrantly open to loose definitions of “disruptive” by lawmakers who just want the peasants to sit down and shut up.
Thus far, SB 1100 has notably passed legislative committees and both houses of the Legislature along party lines, which tells us that this attempted change in open meeting laws is not necessary. Authorities already have the ability to remove anyone who is disruptive to the point of impeding the meeting, and for threats.
Dan Walters noted that many local agencies are supporting this legislation to modify the Brown Act and extend their ability to meet remotely with little or no physical access to their sessions.
The bill’s authors claim “many provisions in the Brown Act remain antiquated.”
While there were and still are many angry constituents and parents attending public meetings and hearings during the state’s Covid lockdowns of school, businesses, and churches, the bill’s authors never acknowledge the pain and suffering the people of California went through under the guise of “public health,” which likely led to hot tempers and fur flying at some meetings. The Governor, Legislature, city councils and county boards are at the heart of what caused these disruptions by supporting the lockdowns of millions of healthy people.
And the lawmakers supporting SB 1100 are pretending that they are just reacting to irrational angry masses.
Additionally, what stunned many local boards and councils is that members of the public showed up demanding accountability and justification for the business, churches and school lockdowns and shutdowns. And yes, many of these business owners and parents were livid at the government which destroyed their businesses, kept their children out of school for nearly two years, and prevented them from worshiping. They have a right to be angry and demand accountability, as the League of California Cities explains.
However, state and local officials never want to have to encounter their constituents like that again.
Here is the justification to SB 1100:
“Last year, as local officials in Silicon Valley including AAPI public officials such as Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoc faced an increased number of targeted bullying and harassment efforts statewide, Senator Cortese and Assemblymember Low expressed their support for establishing mechanisms to address disruptions during public meetings that significantly interrupt public business.”
“By establishing common-sense mechanisms to deescalate significant disruptions and allow members of a legislative body to return to their important governmental business in a swift manner, SB 1100 would enhance public access to meetings and enhance the democratic process.”
These tone-deaf authoritarian lawmakers actually claim SB 1100 would improve access to public meetings and “enhance the democratic process.”
If that is true, why didn’t Assembly and Senate Republicans vote unanimously to pass SB 1100.
Senator Dave Cortese says: “When public meetings have to be called to an end early or entire meeting rooms of public attendees have to be cleared to deal with these disruptions, that hurts the democratic process as a whole. Public officials and attendees shouldn’t have to end their business early due to bullying, harassment, or violence. By employing common-sense measures that protect our first amendment rights, this bill will deescalate significant disruptions and allow us to return to our important government business at hand.”
Assemblymember Evan Low says: “Hate speech, threats, bullying, harassment, and intimidation at public meetings are absolutely unacceptable. I am proud to work with Senator Cortese to give our local governments the tools to counteract disruptive behaviors to ensure public meetings are safe and accessible to all.”
The bullying and harassing was not done to the elected lawmakers and officials, but to parents, children, business owners and anyone in the state who dared to defy the lockdowns and mask mandates.