The future of remote government meetings in Galt had been up in the air for the past few weeks, but new legislation has ensured that virtual meetings can continue.
On Sept. 16, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 361, which permits virtual meetings during a declared local or state emergency.
Until then, it seemed possible that in-person meetings would have to resume at the end of September, when the temporary rules permitting remote meetings were set to expire. A city attorney said as much earlier this month.
“As of Sept. 30, we will be out of Zoom world, unless something changes,” attorney Annie Branham told the Planning Commission on Sept. 9.
In light of the new law, remote meetings will continue in the city, City Clerk Tina Hubert told the Herald.
“Commencing in October, we will continue with virtual meetings per state law until there is no longer a state-proclaimed state of emergency,” Hubert wrote in an email.
Local public meetings in Galt, and across California, are regulated by the Brown Act, which is intended to make sure government business is conducted transparently. The act governs aspects like how to notify the public of a meeting, how to accept public comment and, crucially, where is a valid meeting place.
For example, meetings over teleconference are allowed, but each remote location must be announced and physically accessible to the public, a provision that would have defeated the social-distancing purpose of moving meetings online.
Newsom has suspended that requirement and related ones since March 2020, through a series of executive orders. The latest ends on Sept. 30.
AB 361’s passage into law means that government bodies will be able to shift to fully remote meetings during a public-health emergency without waiting for action from the governor.
The bill’s author, Assembly Member Robert Rivas (D-Salinas), said it is “critical” for local governments and state agencies to be able to engage the public, even in emergency situations.
“AB 361 will enable these bodies to continue serving their constituents remotely while requiring that the public can join the meeting either via telephone or videoconference,” he said in a press release.