California’s Brown Act was designed to ensure that residents had access to the same information that officials did when making decisions. It was a central aspect to the state’s approach to open government.

However, the latest state budget has officially suspended that requirement as the state looked to save itself $96 million. By suspending the mandate for open meetings, the state has stopped mandatory reimbursements to local governments for state mandates – a requirement that’s been in place since 2004. However, just because the reimbursement requirement has been on the books doesn’t mean its been enforced. There have been virtually no Brown Act disbursements made to local governments since 2005.

Fortunately, many local governments have taken the Brown Act and expanded its requirements during the past five decades. Contra Costa County meetings must be announced at least 96 hours in advance. That means that if others follow suit, local government will continue to be transparent.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

California’s 59-year-old Ralph M. Brown Act is meant to ensure open and accessible government. These days, it also shows how convoluted the state can be.

A key feature of the act – that local elected bodies and commissions must post their meeting agendas in advance – was suspended as part of the new state budget, a bookkeeping move that could save the state $96 million in 2012-13.

Read the full article here.