BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



          SENATE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNANCE AND FINANCE
                         Senator Robert M. Hertzberg, Chair
                                2015 - 2016  Regular 

                              
          
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          |Bill No:  |AB 1787                          |Hearing    |6/29/16  |
          |          |                                 |Date:      |         |
          |----------+---------------------------------+-----------+---------|
          |Author:   |Gomez                            |Tax Levy:  |No       |
          |----------+---------------------------------+-----------+---------|
          |Version:  |6/16/16                          |Fiscal:    |Yes      |
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          |Consultant|Favorini-Csorba                                       |
          |:         |                                                      |
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                     Open meetings:  public comments:  translation



          Requires local agency legislative bodies to allow at least twice  
          as much time to members of the public commenting through a  
          translator.


           Background 

           The Brown Act.  The Ralph M. Brown Act (Brown Act), first  
          enacted by the Legislature in 1953, is the set of state laws  
          which guarantees the public's right to attend and participate in  
          local legislative bodies' meetings.  The Brown Act establishes  
          procedures to ensure public access to information maintained by  
          local agencies and that the decisions made by public agencies  
          are done in an open and transparent fashion to retain public  
          control over those agencies.  Local agencies subject to the  
          Brown Act include cities, charter cities, counties, school  
          districts, special districts, and other political subdivisions  
          of the state.  

          The Brown Act establishes the presumption that business of local  
          agencies' legislative bodies must be conducted in open and  
          public meetings.  Among other things, the Brown Act requires the  
          legislative body of a local agency to provide the public with  
          the opportunity to comment on each agenda item, subject to  
          reasonable regulations (such as time limits on individual  
          testimony) that further the intent of the Brown Act to allow  







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          public input. 

          Kettleman City.  Kettleman City is 3.5 miles northeast of a  
          large hazardous waste treatment and storage facility that has  
          raised environmental justice issues over the past 30 years.   
          Driven by concerns over environmental violations and pollution  
          exposure, Kettleman City residents have fought King County's  
          plans to expand the facility.  Kettleman City residents are  
          predominantly Latino and low-income.  In 1991, residents blocked  
          a plan to expand the waste management facility by successfully  
          arguing that the failure to provide a summary of environmental  
          documents in Spanish violated the California Environmental  
          Quality Act.  More recently, residents protested a subsequent  
          expansion proposal at a Kings County board of supervisors  
          meeting, but testimony was limited and no extension of allotted  
          time was granted to speakers using a translator.

          Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act. The Bagley-Keene Open Meeting  
          Act (Bagley-Keene Act) requires state bodies-boards and  
          commissions with multiple members-to hold open meetings.  State  
          bodies must publicly notice their meetings, prepare agendas,  
          accept public testimony, and conduct their meetings in public  
          unless specifically authorized by the Act to meet in closed  
          session.  Like local agencies, state bodies must provide the  
          public with the opportunity to comment on each agenda item and  
          may similarly adopt reasonable rules to ensure equal access.  In  
          2012, the Legislature amended the Bagley-Keene Act to require a  
          state body to provide at least twice as much time to any  
          individual using a translator when the body limits testimony,  
          unless the body uses simultaneous translation technology that  
          allows the body to hear the translation simultaneously (SB 965,  
          Wright, 2012).  Some legislators want to extend these  
          requirements to local agencies.


           Proposed Law

           Assembly Bill 1787 requires the legislative body of a local  
          agency that imposes time limits on public comment to provide at  
          least twice the allotted time to a member of the public that  
          speaks through a translator.  A local agency does not need to  
          meet this requirement if it provides simultaneous translation  
          equipment that allows the legislative body to hear the  
          translation simultaneously.








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           State Revenue Impact

           No estimate.


           Comments

           1.  Purpose of the bill  .  The right to comment on government  
          decisions is fundamental to ensuring that the perspectives of  
          everyday Californians are heard and considered by their  
          representatives.  California draws residents from all over the  
          world, including individuals that speak a primary language other  
          than English.  Yet some local agencies, in a desire to expedite  
          their decisions, limit the testimony of these residents by  
          imposing time limits that do not consider the need for a  
          translator to make their voices heard.  These limitations  
          violate the spirit of the Brown Act, if not the letter of the  
          law.  AB 1787 ensures that local agencies provide all  
          Californians with equal opportunity to comment by doubling the  
          time allotted for those that need translators.  State boards and  
          commissions already have to meet this requirement, and most  
          local agencies conduct meetings this way as well.  AB 1787  
          simply ensures that the requirements for those remaining  
          agencies are clear.  

          2.  Technical amendment  . The Legislative Counsel digest for AB  
          1787 cites the incorrect code section that the bill is amending.  
           The Committee may wish to consider amending AB 1787 to correct  
          this reference.

          3.  Related legislation  . AB 1330 (Perez, 2014) would have  
          required local agencies that limit testimony to not count the  
          testimony of translators towards the allotted speaking time for  
          non-English speakers, in addition to requiring CALEPA to post on  
          its website a searchable database of all permits and enforcement  
          actions issued by state departments within CALEPA.  AB 1330 died  
          in the Senate Rules Committee.  AB 194 (Campos, 2014) would have  
          imposed an identical requirement to not count translator  
          testimony, as well as imposed other restrictions on the ability  
          of local agency legislative bodies to limit testimony, such as  
          prohibiting the legislative body from cutting off comment by a  
          member of the public based on his or her viewpoint where the  








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          comment is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the  
          legislative body.  AB 194 was vetoed by the Governor, with the  
          following veto message:

               "This bill amends the Ralph M. Brown Act to allow  
               individuals who attend local agency meetings to speak  
               before and during an agenda item, a common practice.  
               The bill restates that local agencies shall not  
               prohibit public criticism at meetings. Finally, the  
               bill prescribes how time should be allotted to each  
               speaker.  California has robust policies and  
               longstanding laws in place that promote an open and  
               transparent government and guarantee public decision  
               making.  This bill adds certain procedures to the  
               Brown Act, which at best will elongate but in no way  
               enhance the quality of debate at the local level."

          4.  Mandate  . The California Constitution generally requires the  
          state to reimburse local agencies for their costs when the state  
          imposes new programs or additional duties on them.  In 2014  
          California voters approved Proposition 42, which amended the  
          California Constitution to eliminate the state's responsibility  
          to pay local governments for compliance with the Brown Act and  
          its amendments.  According to the Legislative Counsel's Office,  
          AB 1787 creates a new state-mandated local program.  But this  
          bill disclaims the state's responsibility for reimbursing local  
          agencies by including findings and declarations that the bill  
          amends the Brown Act and furthers its purposes.

          5.  New bill, prior votes not relevant  . As passed by the  
          Assembly, AB 1787 contained provisions relating to environmental  
          protection.  The Senate Governance & Finance Committee never  
          heard that version of the bill.  The June 16 amendments deleted  
          AB 1787's contents and inserted the current language relating to  
          open meetings.


           Assembly Actions

           Not relevant to the June 16, 2016 version of the bill.


           Support and  
          Opposition   (6/23/16)








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           Support  : California Special Districts Association; California  
          State Association of Counties; League of California Cities.

           Opposition  :  Unknown.


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