Governor Brown signs bill allowing more closed-door meetings

by Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation limiting the public’s access to meetings in which he discusses certain security issues with local officials.

The measure was pushed by Los Angeles County, which ran afoul of state law in 2011 when supervisors held a closed-door meeting with Brown to discuss his plan to reduce prison crowding by keeping low-level offenders in county jails rather than sending them to state lockups.

The new law adds the governor to the list of people with whom local lawmakers can meet confidentially to discuss “matters posing a threat to the security of public buildings, services and facilities and public access to public services or facilities.”

“The governor is an essential public safety official, and local governments should have the flexibility to meet with him or her under the same circumstances that they would meet with the attorney general or chief of police,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), said in a statement.

Bradford said the change would not have affected the 2011 meeting, which the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said should have been public because it involved policy matters and not security threats.

The legislation passed with large bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, based in the Bay Area, said he didn’t mind modifying the law to include the governor. But he was concerned that local officials would interpret it loosely to avoid public discussion of politically sensitive topics, such as Brown’s prison plans.

Also on Monday, lawmakers revised a budget bill to eliminate a proposal that could have hampered public access to local government records in California. Brown requested the provision earlier this year but backed away from it last week after a public outcry.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said the revision was a “stopgap measure” to protect access to public records until a proposed constitutional amendment can be placed on the ballot next year requiring local governments to comply with public records laws without reimbursement from the state.