L.A. City Council Weighs Banning Disruptors From Future Meetings

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Council continued to move forward today with proposed rule changes aimed at cracking down on people who repeatedly disrupt council or committee meetings by banning them from attending some future sessions, but it will be at least another week before any vote is taken.

Council President Herb Wesson and some other members introduced a new motion on Friday with an alternative set of rule changes that would still ban offenders from attending some future meetings, and the council took public comment on the motion while also voting to essentially discard a previous motion with a similar set of rule changes.

Proposed changes to council rules must be formally presented to the council, then held over for one week before a vote can be taken, so the new motion and new set of rules cannot be voted on until at least next Tuesday. Changing council rules requires a two-thirds vote.

Council members last Tuesday spoke at length with attorneys in closed session on the first motion but took no action on the proposal, which critics -- including the American Civil Liberties Union -- have blasted as a potential infringement on free-speech rights.

The new motion would still ban members of the public from attending a certain number of meetings based on the frequency of their ejections, but at a slightly different pace and with additional details on the escalation of penalties.

A handful of people are routinely ejected from council or committee meetings for violating rules, including yelling out or being disruptive when it is not their turn to speak. It is not uncommon for them to be ejected from multiple meetings in one day.

The council's current rules allow for someone to be kicked out for being disruptive, but only from that specific meeting. Under the new rules, if someone is kicked out of a meeting more than once on a day or the following business day, he or she would be excluded from attending all council and committee meetings for the remainder of that day and for the following business day. If that person continues to come back and get ejected within a certain amount of days, the exclusion can continue to escalate all the way up to six business days.

The second motion is the latest development in an ongoing conflict the council has had with public speakers who push the boundaries of decorum with racist, sexist or vulgar comments. Offenders often get kicked out of meetings for failing to stop speaking after their allotted time or by causing a disruption in the audience when it is not their turn to speak. The conflicts can lead to bizarre interactions, such as when a council member in the middle of a serious conversation about city issues must pause to admonish a member of the audience to stop playing with a puppet, making animal noises or waving their hands in the air.

In previous discussions during City Council sessions, members have worried about how to handle disruptions while adhering to open meeting laws, including the Brown Act. The council lost a 2013 federal free speech lawsuit filed by two men who were repeatedly kicked out of council meetings for violating public comment rules.

The council appears to expect that the proposed rules will be challenged in court, scheduling last Tuesday's closed-session discussion to confer with its legal counsel “based on a significant exposure to litigation.” The new motion was also scheduled for a possible closed session with lawyers, but the council only took public comment.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, whose members are frequent critics of city policies, argue the new rules could be used to squash free speech.

“`What you're doing is denying us a whole lot of our rights. There is honor in protest and disruption,” said Hamid Khan, coordinator for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.

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