Executive Orders Authorizing “Virtual” Brown Act Meetings Will Expire September 30, 2021
One of the first actions taken by the Governor in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency was to issue executive orders in March, 2020, authorizing local legislative bodies subject to the Brown Act to conduct meetings entirely via telephonic or other electronic means, without board members or the public physically present. Our prior summary of Executive Orders N-29-20 and N-35-20 can be viewed here. These provisions are now set to expire on September 30, 2021.
On June 11, 2021, the Governor issued Executive Order N-08-21, which addresses the expiration of numerous executive orders issued during the pandemic, including but not limited to those addressing the Brown Act. Of particular relevance to the Brown Act, Executive Order N-08-21 includes the following provisions:
- Continues in effect, until September 30, 2021, the general authorization of Executive Order N-29-20 for legislative bodies of local agencies to conduct “virtual” meetings, subject to continuing requirements (which already exist) to allow the public to observe and address the meeting telephonically or otherwise electronically; to include in meeting agendas information about how to access the meeting and offer public comment via electronic means; and to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities. Legislative bodies also must post meeting agendas according to traditional (pre-pandemic) Brown Act requirements.
- Continues in effect until September 30, 2021, the authorization of Executive Order N-35-20 for legislative bodies of local agencies to convene in order to receive updates relevant to the COVID-19 emergency, from federal, state and local officials, and subject to the limitations as already specified in Executive Order N-35-20.
- Specifies that the authorizations of Executive Orders N-29-20 and N-35-20 to hold “virtual” Brown Act meetings without the public being present will expire on September 30, 2021.
Many governing boards and other local legislative bodies have already resumed in-person meetings, or have plans to do so soon. Executive Order N-08-21 makes clear that virtual meetings will remain authorized until September 30, 2021, thus allowing time for an orderly transition back to in-person meetings. Local agencies should begin planning now to resume in-person Brown Act meetings no later than September 30, 2021, if they have not already.
Of note, the Governor’s action follows a request made to the Governor on May 18, 2021, by a coalition of local government agency organizations, for advance notice of any requirement to resume in-person public meeting procedures after the state’s June 15, 2021, date for general reopening, in the interest of a safe and orderly transition. On June 2, 2021, the Governor responded to give assurance that the authorization of Executive Order N-29-20 for “virtual” public meetings would not terminate on June 15, and that notice would be given in advance of rescission. With the issuance of Executive Order N-08-21 on June 11, 2021, the clock is now counting down on the time to return to in-person public meetings.
Also of note, various bills have been introduced in the Legislature to authorize or require various electronic means of public observation of and participation in Brown Act meetings on a permanent basis. To date, these remain only proposals, however it is possible that revisions to the Brown Act’s meeting procedures to incorporate 21st-century technologies will be among the many lasting changes left in the wake of the pandemic.