Information provided by the office of Assembly member Robert Rivas
Assemblymember Robert Rivas’ office announced Gov. Newsom signed Rivas’ Assembly Bill 361 Sept. 16. This bill will temporarily provide state agencies and local legislative bodies the flexibility to meet remotely during emergencies, such as raging wildfires or a pandemic.
According to the release, this legislation will ensure the delivery of essential government services to Californians in times of crisis while maintaining high levels of transparency and public access.
“State agencies and local legislative bodies provide essential services like water, power, and fire protection – it’s critical that the public be safely engaged regardless of emergency conditions,” said Asm. Rivas. “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. I am thankful that Governor Newsom has signed this bill into law, which will take effect immediately as we experience another record-breaking wildfire season and more COVID-19 variants.”
“While we hope devastating emergencies will never happen in our communities, AB 361 will provide local public agencies, including special districts, the authority to meet remotely to ensure the continued delivery of critical services when inevitable emergencies occur, such as floods, fires, earthquakes and even our current health emergency,” said Neil McCormick, CEO of the California Special Districts Association. “I commend Assemblymember Rivas, the Governor, and the Legislature for their efforts on this issue to protect California communities and the services they depend on.”
“Counties host dozens of public meetings every month that must be conducted safely during a state of emergency, whether a pandemic, wildfire, or other natural disaster,” said Graham Knaus, Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties. “As stewards of public health and safety, county leaders see AB 361 as a key tool to ensure continued operations, public participation, and increased awareness during times of emergency.”
“Cities urgently needed AB 361 to become law so they could continue to provide essential services while prioritizing the health and safety of their residents and ensuring government transparency, access, and public engagement,” said Carolyn Coleman, Executive Director & CEO of the League of California Cities. “This bill ensures local agencies will have the flexibility needed to conduct government business and maintain local operations efficiently and effectively during any emergency situation.”
The release added that when COVID-19 began, public agencies were expected to meet in person per the Brown, Bagley-Keene, and Gloria Romero Acts requirements despite shelter-in-place orders. As a result, Gov. Newsom issued executive orders that temporarily waived the in-person meeting requirements. AB 361 builds on the best practices of these orders by allowing local legislative bodies to meet remotely during a state of emergency, as declared by the governor, until January 2024. Additionally, this bill extends the current executive order that enables state agencies and CSU boards to meet remotely for the next four months until January 2022.