Measure exempting use of social media from serial meeting definition of Brown Act is dead

Legislation that would have allowed a majority of members of a local agency to communicate with constituents as well as each other via Facebook or Twitter failed to secure enough votes to get it out of the Assembly Local Government Committee.

AB 992 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco) would have allowed the use of internet-based social media platforms, as defined, by a majority of the members of a legislative body, provided that a majority of the members did not discuss among themselves, business of a specific nature that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body of the local agency.

In prohibiting these discussions, however, the bill also exempted certain communications from the prohibition in the definition of “Discuss among themselves” which undermined the prohibition.

The bill provided “Discuss among themselves” would not include:
Individual communications made, posted, or shared by one or more members of a legislative body on an internet-based social media platform, provided that the communications do not respond directly to communications made, posted, or shared by any other member of the legislative body.
Communications made through the use of digital icons that express reactions to information, ideas, or opinions by others.

Applying the first standard to a five-member body, a response of two members to a tweet by a resident that references a communication made by a third member about an issue would be a permissible discussion because it would be a communication on a social media platform that would not be a direct response.

The use of social media is a potentially effective tool for constituents to use to communicate with their elected officials and there is pressure to update the Brown Act to recognize this.

A friend of the newspaper industry, Assemblyman Mullin said he is committed to continue pursuing legislation in this area and intends to bring all of the interested stakeholders together to try to get consensus on language that would strike the appropriate balance. Mullin also pledged that he would not move forward with a bill if consensus could not be reached.