Few things have had greater beneficial impact on government bodies than shedding some light on their actions, although the agencies themselves have often fought the glare of the public eye. The Ralph M. Brown Act, named for the speaker of the state Assembly in the 1959-60 session, over the years has established the right of the public to have advance notice of meetings of local government bodies, open hearings and other access.
No longer could local boards and councils hold shadowy informal meetings in which they surreptitiously made decisions affecting the citizenry. No longer could officials escape responsibility for their actions by keeping their votes secret.
In 1993 and 1994, the Legislature amended the Brown Act to provide further disclosures and accommodate new technology, such as official meetings conducted via teleconferencing.
California also has a law known as the Bagley-Keene Act, which applies most of the provisions of the Brown Act to state boards and commissions. But an attempt last year to modernize the Bagley-Keene Act along the lines of the amended Brown Act was vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson after winning approval in both houses of the Legislature. The governor complained that the proposed changes in the Bagley Act would undermine its effectiveness.