California Transparency Bill Could Even Playing Field for Access

If approved, the bill would require local government agencies to post all meeting agendas online in an open format via a prominent, direct link beginning in 2019.

by Matt Williams, TechWire / July 1, 2016
Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, talks about AB 2257 in front of the State Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday, June 29.
Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, talks about AB 2257 in front of the State Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday, June 29.

Transparency legislation moving forward at the State Capitol would require local government entities to post all meeting agendas online via a prominent, direct link beginning in 2019.

If approved, AB 2257 from Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, would apply to legislative bodies of cities, counties, special districts and school districts.

"AB 2257 will update the Ralph Brown Act by ensuring meeting agendas are posted in a consistent, visible location on the homepage of a local agency's Internet website or provide a direct link to an agenda portal if they have one," Maienschein said Wednesday.

The bill also would stipulate that the meeting agendas be made available in an open, machine readable format that's "platform independent," searchable and downloadable.

Robb Korinke, principal of Grassroots Lab, the sponsor of the bill, told the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday that the legislation would level the playing field for access to public documents and the decision-making process.

Jim Ewert with the California Newspaper Publishers Association said the bill "would bring the Brown Act into the 21st century, and if you were writing the Brown Act today, this is where you would start."

But not everyone is completely happy about the legislation. The California Special Districts Association has taken an "oppose unless amended" position on AB 2257. A representative of the association told the committee on Wednesday that the bill would, in effect, "micromanage" how local agencies design and operate their websites. Instead, the special districts are advocating that the agenda materials be available within three clicks from a homepage instead of mandating a direct link.

"While we've seen no evidence of special districts burying agendas, if they were, they would be in violation of the Brown Act — and that's a compliance issue. And creating new regulations doesn't create greater compliance; enforcement does," said Dylan Givens, representing the California Special Districts Association.

AB 2257 cleared the Senate Governance and Finance Committee by a 7-to-0 vote on Wednesday and was moved to the Appropriations Committee.

This article was originally published on TechWire.