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California State Senate. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

When is the California Legislature Permitted to Meet in Closed Session?

The Legislature is required to provide to the public reasonable notice of the closed session and the purpose

By Chris Micheli, December 30, 2021 10:07 am

With the voters’ adoption of Proposition 64 at the November 2016 general election, there are greater “sunshine” rules for legislative proceedings of the California Legislature. Nonetheless, the state Constitution does provide a number of instances in which the Legislature can meet in closed session.

In Article IV, Section 7(c) of the California Constitution, there are specified instances, despite (“notwithstanding”) other open meeting provisions, in which “closed sessions” may be held by the Legislature. The limitation is that these closed sessions “may be held solely” for the specified purposes. What are those purposes?

The California Legislature is permitted to meet in closed session for these reasons:

  • To consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, or dismissal of a public officer or employee.
  • To consider or hear complaints or charges brought against a Member of the Legislature or other public officer or employee.
  • To establish the classification or compensation of an employee of the Legislature.
  • To consider matters affecting the safety and security of Members of the Legislature or its employees or the safety and security of any buildings and grounds used by the Legislature.
  • To confer with, or receive advice from, its legal counsel regarding pending or reasonably anticipated, or whether to initiate, litigation when discussion in open session would not protect the interests of the house or committee regarding the litigation.

These authorized closed sessions are similar to exceptions allowed with other public bodies at the local and federal levels. The Legislature is required to provide to the public reasonable notice of the closed session and the purpose of the closed session.

In addition, “a caucus of the Members of the Senate, the Members of the Assembly, or the Members of both houses, which is composed of the members of the same political party, may meet in closed session.” This is the most common use of an authorized closed session – Democratic or Republican legislators in either house meeting together, usually at least once per week. They are also used from time-to-time during floor sessions to discuss timely issues.

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