In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, on March 12, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-25-20 ("EO N-25-20"). Among other things, EO N-25-20 suspends provisions of the Brown Act (Govt. Code §§ 54950 et seq.) and Bagley-Keene Act (Govt. Code §§ 11120 et seq.), which otherwise require special noticing and public access to teleconference locations for public meetings held via teleconference. EO N-25-20 provides that, during the period in which state or local public officials impose or recommend measures to promote social distancing,1 including limitations on public events, state and local bodies may conduct entirely teleconferenced public meetings (a) so long as each state or local body complies with noticing requirements of the pertinent state law, and (b) provides at least one publicly accessible location from which members of the public have the right to observe and offer public comment at the public meeting.
To further encourage social distancing, the local or state agency may also permit members of the public to attend the meeting telephonically or otherwise. EO N-25-20 authorizes the body "to make public meetings accessible telephonically or otherwise electronically to all members of the public seeking to attend and to address the local legislative body or state body, during the period in which state or local public officials impose or recommend measures to promote social distancing."
Unfortunately, EO N-25-20 does not clearly state whether the public has the right to attend telephonically or electronically as a condition of holding a public meeting pursuant to the provisions of the Executive Order.
As the understanding of combatting COVID-19 is fluid and ever-evolving worldwide, so do federal, state and local governments' responses. Sheppard Mullin will monitor the situation and continue to provide updates as they become available.
1 Social distancing measures are taken to restrict when and where people can gather to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases. Social distancing measures include limiting large groups of people coming together, closing buildings and canceling events.
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