As the New Year approaches, local governments and public agencies in California need to be aware of some important changes to the California Public Records Act and the Brown Act. The experts at Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP – a premier law firm representing public agencies in California – recently analyzed these changes in the Burke Public Law Update. Here is what you need to know.
Public Records Act Reorganization To Take Effect
Burke Public Law partner Maxwell A. Blum
On January 1, 2023, new legislation will take effect which recodifies and reorganizes the provisions of the California Public Records Act. The new legislation states that it is not intended to substantively change the law relating to inspection of public records. However, it may nonetheless have some practical consequences for public agencies. The reorganization means that the Public Records Act will now begin at Government Code section 7920.000, rather than Government Code 6250. Exemptions currently found in Government Code section 6254 have been relocated to multiple independent code sections to make them easier to read.
Form letters and other materials which reference statutes in the Public Records Act as it is currently codified will need to be updated, since the locations of the statutes referenced will change. For example, a form letter referencing the exemption from disclosure found at Government Code section 6254(c), which exempts “personnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” will need to be revised, as this exemption will be relocated to Government Code section 7927.700.
These changes come via Assembly Bills 473 and 474, which were passed and approved by the Governor in 2021.
Distribution Of Documents To Legislative Bodies Prior To Meetings
The Brown Act (Government Code section 54957.5(b)) currently requires that writings that are public records and distributed to all, or a majority of the members of the governing board relating to an agenda item for an open session of a regular meeting less than 72 hours before that meeting must be made available for public inspection at a public office or location at the same time the writing is distributed to a majority of the legislative body. AB 2647 becomes effective January 1, 2023 and will modify those requirements for disclosure of public records relating to an agenda item. This new law provides an option for the situation when a new writing is distributed to a majority of the legislative body when agency offices are closed and the new writing cannot be made available at a physical location at the same time prior to a meeting.
AB 2647 amends Government Code section 54957.5(b)(2)(B) to provide an alternative to making the writing available for public inspection at a public office by posting the writings on the agency’s website, but only if the agency can meet all of the following requirements:
- A staff report or similar document containing an executive summary and the staff recommendation, if any, relating to that agenda item is made available for public inspection at the office or designated location at least 72 hours before the meeting.
- The agency immediately posts any writing on the local agency’s internet website in a position and manner that makes it clear that the writing relates to an agenda item for an upcoming meeting.
- The agency lists the web address of the local agency’s internet website on the agendas for all meetings of the legislative body of that agency.
- The local agency makes physical copies available for public inspection, beginning the next regular business hours for the local agency, at a public office or location that the agency shall designate for this purpose. This requirement is satisfied only if the next regular business hours of the local agency commence at least 24 hours before that meeting.
Writings that are public records and distributed during a public meeting must still be made available for public inspection at the meeting if prepared by the local agency or a member of its legislative body, or after the meeting if prepared by some other person. These writings must also be made available in appropriate alternative formats upon request by a person with a disability as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.