SACRAMENTO (AP) — A bill that would allow the governor to attend closed-door meetings with city councils, boards of supervisors and other local elected bodies passed unanimously out of the state Assembly on Thursday.
The bill would apply to an exemption in the state's open meetings law that allows local officials to meet privately to discuss public threats.
It was introduced at the request of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, after the board was found to have violated the open meetings law last September. That's when the board met with Gov. Jerry Brown to discuss his plan to shift certain inmates from state to county oversight.
The discussion was held privately despite complaints that it should have been public.
Last week, the county agreed to pay $14,750 in legal fees to settle a lawsuit filed by Californians Aware, a statewide advocacy group, and acknowledged the meeting should have been public.
On Thursday, lawmakers passed AB1736 by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, on a 51-0 vote, sending it to the Senate.
Smyth told fellow lawmakers that the governor should be on a list of officials who can attend closed-door meetings because the governor makes decisions similar to those made by local officials regarding threats to government services and buildings.
"This bill would simply add the governor to the officials that can meet in closed session," Smyth said in describing his bill on the Assembly floor.
The bill was put forward at the request of Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents northern Los Angeles County, the same area as Smyth.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees opposed the bill on the grounds that it discourages transparency. The union wrote that "any meetings between the governor and a local legislative body should be conducted freely and openly, without concealment from the public."
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the governor's meeting with the Los Angeles County board was cloaked in secrecy for the wrong reason.
Following the September meeting, the Los Angeles Times filed a complaint with the county district attorney saying the session violated the Ralph M. Brown Act. In a Jan. 24 letter to the board, Assistant Head Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Lentz Snyder found that the meeting should have been open because the information discussed was not sensitive enough to constitute a public threat.
"The governor's meeting with the LA County board should not have been held secretly because the issue they were discussing — moving prison inmates from state facilities to county facilities — was sensitive not for security reasons, but for political reasons," Scheer said Thursday.
The governor's office does not comment on bills until they arrive on his desk, Brown's spokesman Gil Duran said Thursday.
Authored by Assemblyman Ralph M. Brown and passed in 1953, the state's open meetings law guarantees the public's right to attend local government sessions. It was expanded in 1971 to allow city and county governments to hold closed-door meetings when there were public threats, such as bombings of buildings or mass protests.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the state allowed closed meetings to include water and electricity infrastructure. It does not provide exemptions on controversial policy.