California can save taxpayer dollars and make state government more accessible and inclusive by allowing fully remote public meetings even after the pandemic ends, says the state’s independent government watchdog in its new report.
In The Government of Tomorrow: Online Meetings, the Little Hoover Commission looks at the benefits of Governor Newsom’s March 2020 Executive Order allowing state boards and commissions to meet entirely via remote technology, with no physical location accessible to the public. The Commission calls on the Legislature and Governor to update the state’s open meetings law – the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act – to reflect new technologies and the experiences of the past year.
In its report, the Commission finds that California can make its public meetings more accessible and inclusive by requiring that boards and commissions give the public remote access to every meeting. This change would especially benefit those who traditionally face obstacles in interacting with state government, such as low-income people, rural Californians, or people with physical disabilities.
“Governor Newsom has long been an advocate of using technology to make government more accessible,” said Commission Chair Pedro Nava, who also serves on the subcommittee on remote work and state government. “He even wrote a book on the subject – Citizenville. Now the Governor and the Legislature can use proven technology to increase public accessibility and strengthen government accountability.”
The report also provides results from the Commission’s survey of state boards and commissions that have met remotely during the pandemic. The survey results highlight some of the substantial benefits afforded to the public when boards and commissions hold meetings in which their own members participate via remote technology:
- Over 90 percent of surveyed agencies reported reduced costs due to remote meetings.
- Approximately half of agencies reported better attendance by commission members.
- One-third of agencies responded that they are meeting more often due to their ability to meet remotely.
- Roughly half of agencies that have witnesses said it has been easier to secure high-quality speakers.
To capture the full benefits of remote meetings, the Commission urges the Legislature and Governor to make it easier for members of boards and commissions to participate remotely.
For these reforms to be most effective, the Commission says that the Governor and the Legislature should take action before September 30, when the Governor’s Executive Order is rescinded and pre-pandemic requirements of Bagley-Keene resume.
“With these two simple yet critical changes to Bagley-Keene, California can increase public access to state government while capturing the efficiency and cost-saving advantages of new technologies,” says Commissioner Bill Emmerson, who chaired the study’s subcommittee. “State leaders should not let our state fall short due to outdated statutes.”