By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – In response to escalating threats and harassment targeted at local government leaders during meetings, a new California law clarifies when leaders of legislative bodies can remove disruptive individuals from public meetings.
Senate Bill 1100, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday, allows the presiding member of a local legislative body to remove a person who is disrupting a meeting. Under the law, officials must warn the individual that their behavior is disruptive and could result in their removal. If the individual continues to be disruptive, officials can have them removed from the meeting after a proper warning.
The bill’s author, Sen. Dave Cortese, introduced the bill in response to instances of harassment and threats of violence during public meetings. Instances within the past year, including the harassment of Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoc and her family at public meetings and racist remarks during San Diego County Board of Supervisors meetings, have drawn concern from Sen. Cortese and other lawmakers.
Sen. Cortese wrote that these instances have “demonstrated the need to protect public safety and public meeting access by modernizing the Brown Act,” a 1953 law that requires public access to attend and participate in local government meetings. Sen. Cortese said the law is needed to clarify standards for when “removal of a meeting participant is warranted.”
“It has become increasingly clear that the mechanisms provided by the Brown Act to deal with disruptions during public meetings are insufficient,” Sen. Cortese wrote in support of the bill. “Across California, public officials and public attendees continue to deal with disorderly conduct during meetings at such a high magnitude that critical business and the legislative process as a whole has become impaired.”
Groups opposed to the bill raised concerns that it could restrict the First Amendment rights of the public during government meetings. Californians for Good Governance wrote it was concerned the bill would be interpreted as a “general license to limit public participation” in local meetings.
“The reality is that participatory democracy is a messy business, but limiting public input is not the answer as it moves our government towards authoritarianism and away from democracy,” the group wrote in an opposition letter.
After the bill was passed, Californians for Good Governance tweeted that though the bill “may not run afoul of the First Amendment, it is part of a troubling, anti-democratic trend of discouraging public participation in the policy-making process.”
Sen. Cortese praised the passage of the bill on Monday, saying he was “proud that we were able to work with First Amendment advocates and attorneys to craft a solution that could both address the shar increase in abuse that public officials and meeting attendees were facing while protecting our First Amendment rights.”