On June 27, 2012, the Governor signed the budget for the 2012/2013 fiscal year. The budget suspended funding for a number of state mandates, including the Ralph M. Brown Act (“Brown Act”). At first blush, some may view this as a means to “cut corners” on Brown Act compliance. Due to the interplay with the California Constitution, however, this view should be approached with caution. A brief summary of the effect of the suspension is set forth below.
- State mandates require reimbursement to local agencies for the costs associated with, in this case, Brown Act compliance. Unfunded state mandates are generally unenforceable.
- Suspension of funding for a state mandate does not preclude a cause of action for noncompliance. If a member of the public alleges a Brown Act violation, he/she may still pursue this claim in superior court. Although, depending on the allegation, the lack of funding may succeed as an affirmative defense.
- Further, the California Constitution Article I, sec. 3(b)(1) requires meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies to be open to public scrutiny. In order to ensure compliance with the Constitution, public agencies should continue to follow all requirements of the Brown Act.
- Currently making its way through the legislative process is a constitutional amendment that, if enacted, would amend the California Constitution to require each public body to provide public notice of its meetings and public disclosure of any action taken without requiring state reimbursement. This Amendment will likely be on the ballot in the November 2012 election.
- Adherence to the Brown Act requirements will ensure constitutional compliance and reduce local agency exposure to litigation for noncompliance.
- Compliance with the Brown Act may serve to provide notice in matters where statutes of limitations may become an issue, i.e. labor disputes, contractual matters, etc.
Local agencies will soon receive a letter of notification from the Department of Finance that sets forth the state mandates that have been suspended under the current budget.
If you would like more specific information about the budget or suspended mandates, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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