State Constitution Now Requires Local Agencies to Follow Brown and Public Records Acts - Whether or Not State Reimburses Compliance Costs


Voters Pass Proposition 42 and Create a Constitutional Amendment

California voters just approved Proposition 42, a state constitutional amendment to eliminate the requirement that the state reimburse costs incurred by local public agencies to comply with the Brown Act and Public Records Act.

For many years, the California Constitution has required meetings and documents of local public agencies to be open to public scrutiny. Two laws have historically implemented this rule: The Ralph M. Brown Act and the California Public Records Act. Over the years, the Legislature has modified these Acts. Some changes increased local agency responsibilities and costs. Under the state constitution, the state must generally pay local agencies for their costs when it increases their responsibilities. 

Over the last decade, questions arose about whether local agencies must comply with certain parts of these Acts without cost reimbursement from the state. In the case of the Brown Act, this concerned posting of meeting agendas and reporting out closed session actions in open session. With respect to the Public Records Act, this concerned, among other things, assisting members of the public seeking records and telling individuals whether the records can be provided. This issue came to a head in June 2012 when the Legislature, facing serious budget shortfalls, suspended these requirements to eliminate the need to reimburse local agencies.  This sparked a debate among local agencies about what to do. Most decided to continue complying with both Acts regardless of the suspension (many never sought reimbursement in the first place since their added costs were nominal). But, some decided not to do so to save on costs.  

In November 2012, the voters approved Proposition 30, which purported to eliminate the reimbursement requirement for Brown Act compliance. However, questions were raised about its legal effectiveness, and it didn’t address Public Records Act compliance.  

Proposition 42 has now conclusively resolved this debate. It adds to the state constitution the express requirement that local agencies follow both the Brown Act and Public Records Act. More importantly, it eliminates the state’s obligation to reimburse local agencies for their costs in complying with these Acts, including future amendments to these Acts that are intended to improve public access to meetings and information.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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