Best Practices For Compliance With SB 751 - Practical Tips for Publicly Reporting on Legislative Body Actions Taken and Votes or Abstention on the Actions

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California Senate Bill 751, which went into effect January 1, requires the legislative body of a local agency to publicly report any action taken and the vote or abstention on that action of each member present. This new law seeks to prevent anonymous voting on legislative bodies and to provide the public with the ability to monitor the votes of public officials during the open and public sessions of meetings subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act. Given the limited nature of this bill, questions have started to arise as to what is actually required under the bill. Our conclusion is that it must be clear to the public how individual members of the legislative body voted or abstained on a particular matter. As a result, we offer a few best practices for your consideration:

  • Confirm under the Government Code, or your agency’s particular primary or special act, the meetings for which your agency is legally required to maintain minutes or other records of proceedings. 
  • Have all minutes specifically state any action taken by a legislative body and the vote or abstention on that action of each member present for the action. If a vote is unanimous, we do not believe that each member’s vote must be announced or included in the minutes. However, if the vote is not unanimous, the public in attendance and the meeting minutes need to be clear regarding how each member voted. This practice should be extended to any meeting of a “legislative body” as defined under the Brown Act*.
  • Any advisory committees subject to the Brown Act for which minutes are not regularly kept because the committee’s recommendations are simply reported out during the meeting of the agency’s governing body can continue without change. However, the chair or presiding officer of the advisory committee should make it clear to the public in attendance how any particular member voted in the event of a disagreement.
  • If an agency is considering a controversial matter and the presiding officer believes there will be a split vote, the presiding officer should ensure that the vote is taken in a manner that permits the clerk to maintain accurate records and the public to understand the vote. The presiding officer may do so by announcing the vote of the legislative body after the vote is taken or by taking a roll call vote.
  • Similarly, public officials should make it clear to the presiding officer/chair and the clerk/secretary when he or she is either voting no or abstaining on a particular matter.

Under existing law, the Brown Act requires all meetings of the legislative body of a local agency be open and public, and all persons are permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency, except as otherwise provided. The Brown Act requires local agencies to report the vote or abstention of every member present for specified closed meetings or for meetings using teleconferencing. The Brown Act also forbids the use of secret ballots when taking actions in public meetings whether preliminary or final. Previously, the Brown Act did not specifically require agencies to report the vote of individual members except for the exceptions stated above.

* Legislative body is defined under the Brown Act to include (1) the governing body, (2) any commission, committee, board or other body of the agency, whether permanent or temporary, decision-making or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body; or (3) as otherwise defined under Government Code section 54952.