A bill that legislators say will address “disruptions” in public meetings statewide is now headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
Senate Bill 1100 was introduced by Senator Dave Cortese (D-Silicon Valley) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) shortly after local officials, such as Los Gatos Town Councilmember Marico Sayoc, were targeted by conservative demonstrators.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, originally enacted in 1953, authorizes a legislative body to address disruptions through removal of an individual or group of individuals who “willfully interrupt” the proceedings of a public meeting. But the legislators say what constitutes a “willful interruption” remains vague in the law.
SB1100 would define what a “willful interruption” is to ensure an individual is removed from a public meeting if they disrupt the meeting. It would also institute a warning system for the person causing the disruption and require them to be tossed out if they continue the behavior.
In late 2021, demonstrators attended multiple meetings of the Los Gatos Town Council, launching personal attacks on then-mayor Sayoc and her family.
The in-person council meetings shifted to a virtual format following the disruptions, and continue remotely to this day.
“SB1100 would have helped me and my family when faced with intense and concentrated harassment attempts at public council meetings,” Sayoc said. “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.”
Conservative agitators decried Los Gatos’ move to online, saying they felt it stifled dissent about coronavirus policies and social issues. They also protested the introduction of a no-targeted-picketing ordinance, which prevented them from demonstrating outside the homes of Council members, which is where the meetings had therefore begun occurring.
It was the former mayor’s husband who was served with a temporary restraining order after he berated protesters, in response to comments made about his son during a Council meeting.
A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled Sayoc’s husband was not a threat in a trial earlier this year.
SB1100 passed the Senate 29-7 on May 2, and the Assembly 57-18 on Aug. 1, where it now awaits Newsom’s signature or veto.
“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. “Public officials and attendees shouldn’t have to end their business early due to bullying, harassment or violence. By employing common-sense measures that protect our first amendment rights, this bill will deescalate significant disruptions and allow us to return to our important government business at hand.”