UPDATE: THE CALIFORNIA NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION REPORTS: “After media pressure by the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, CalAware’s blog post, and our lobbying efforts in the Assembly today, Assemblywoman Campos’s office has agreed to resend the bill to the Senate for amendments to completely remove any reference to a closed session in the bill. AB 36 will now require that acquisition of military equipment must be discussed/voted on in open session.”


Assembly Member Nora Campos (D-San Jose) has at the last minute, and without a single public hearing, amended her AB 36 to allow city councils to deliberate in closed session on whether to pass, modify or abandon a proposed ordinance on purchase of military equipment for their police departments.

The bill was originally introduced to ensure that decisions on purchase of military surplus weapons and other tactical gear would be made only by local government bodies at open meetings subject to the Brown Act.  The measure was partly in reaction to deployment of military equipment to quell restive crowds in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, and partly prompted by the public outcry of citizens questioning the Davis Police Department’s purchase of an MRAP armored truck. The department reacted by agreeing to dispose of the vehicle.

August 24 author’s amendments to AB 36 have effectively neutered it not only by exempting county boards of supervisors and any other local bodies where the law enforcement agency reports directly to an elected officer, but by allowing city councils to retire into closed session to deliberate about adopting an ordinance authorizing police purchases of military hardware, with the approved shopping list kept secret.

The amendment reads:

A legislative body of a local agency may hold a closed session for the purpose of considering an ordinance or resolution authorizing the acquisition of tactical surplus military equipment . . . if the following conditions are met:
        (1) The ordinance or resolution is listed on the agenda of a regular meeting pursuant to Section 54954.2.
        (2) A member of the legislative body, during an open session of the regular meeting, makes a motion to consider the ordinance or resolution at a closed session.
        (3) Two-thirds of the members of the legislative body concur in the motion.
        (4) The closed session complies with the applicable requirements of this chapter.
The types of tactical surplus military equipment that the legislative body authorizes at a closed session held pursuant to this section shall not be disclosed during an open session.

Apart from its controversial subject matter, the amended AB 36 would mean a first in the history of the Brown Act: authorization of a closed session not to deal with litigation, union bargaining, property negotiations or personal privacy concerns, but with the naked purpose of giving cover from accountability to elected officials as they consider a pure policy issue.