The Los Angeles City Council unanimously Tuesday approved rule changes aimed at cracking down on people who repeatedly disrupt council or committee meetings by banning them from attending some future sessions.
Critics — including the American Civil Liberties Union — blasted the rule changes, which required a two-thirds vote, as a potential infringement on free-speech rights.
The new rules, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, ban members of the public from attending a certain number of meetings based on the frequency of their ejections.
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 will 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 new rules are 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.
No council member spoke about the rule changes before the vote. The final tally was 14-0, with only Councilman Mike Bonin absent.
“The overall point is, we are sensitive to people’s First Amendment rights, and freedom of speech, but this is not about that,” Rick Coca, a spokesman for City Councilman Jose Huizar, told City News Service last month. “Everybody has a right to say what they want to say. This is about creating chaos at a governmental body meeting, and it is affecting our ability to do the business of the people.”
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, whose members are frequent critics of city policies, argue the new rules could be used to squash free speech.
“You don’t even have the gumption to acknowledge that there’s dignity in rage, there’s dignity in protest,” said Hamid Khan, coordinator for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, to the council before the vote.