California elected officials can now have residents who disrupt public meetings thrown out after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new bill Monday that has set specific standards to count as a means for removal.
After coming off the heels of draconian COVID-19 mandates, controversial curricula taught in public schools, and radical ideologies infiltrating institutions across the nation, the American public continues to display an increase of disdain toward public officials.
But the new California legislation, authored by Sen. Dave Cortese (D-CA), gives authorities in public meetings the right to remove a person causing an interruption from the space if their behavior persists after receiving a warning. The bill defines disruption as someone threatening or refusing to comply with reasonable and lawful regulations.
And without violating the Brown Act, a California law that requires full transparency in public meetings, it would help local agencies address an “unfortunate, but notable, increase in disruptive behavior,” according to the California State Association of Counties and the Urban Counties of California groups said.
“When public meetings have to be called to an end early or entire meeting rooms of public attendees have to be cleared to deal with these disruptions, that hurts the democratic process as a whole,” Cortese said in a statement earlier this month. “Public officials and attendees shouldn’t have to end their business early due to bullying, harassment, or violence.”
Cortese, representing portions of Santa Clara county, drafted the bill after former Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoch faced “targeted bullying and harassment efforts statewide” last year.
Sayoch said the bill would have helped her and his family when faced with intense and concentrated harassment attempts at public Council meetings.
Los Gatan reports residents made personalized comments about the mayor’s son during a string of city council meetings and would later show up outside their home, calling the LGBTQ community “a terrorist organization” while telling her to leave the California town.
“I am hopeful that this bill will keep people safe in the future – those just trying to conduct business for the public good – and will ensure individuals, and especially women, continue to step up and serve in office without fear of harassment and violence at their public meetings,” Sayoc said.
Silicon Valley Assemblymember Evan Low, who co-authored the bill, called hate speech, threats, bullying, harassment, and intimidation at public meetings “absolutely unacceptable.”
While the bill seeks to protect the safety of government officials, a debate has sparked over the legislation concerning the need to protect citizens’ first amendment rights regarding free speech and public assembly.
The Associated Press reports that Californians for Good Governance fears the bill could be interpreted by local officials “as a general license to limit public participation.”
“The reality is that participatory democracy is a messy business, but limiting public input is not the answer as it moves our government towards authoritarianism and away from democracy,” the group said.
However, others say the bill upholds the public’s right to free speech while carving out exceptions for those who cross the line in the public setting.
“Genuine disruption is genuine disruption.” David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, told The Associated Press. “It can’t just be because the city council doesn’t like what they have to say.”
Gov. Newsom, who has also faced protestors during his reign as the state’s leader, signed the bill without comment.