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Council adopts rules for public testimony at meetings


Setting guidance for speaking, defining what constitutes prohibited, disruptive behavior


The Metropolitan King County Council today unanimously adopted regulations setting clear guidelines for people who come to present public comment or testimony at meetings of the County Council or its committees. The goal of the legislation is to foster the council's ability to conduct its meetings in an orderly and efficient manner. The approved regulations also establish the consequences when a chair rules that an individual has disrupted a meeting.

The County Council allows public t testimony on issues Councilmembers are set to vote on during regular council meetings and once a month to provide comment on issues concerning county government. The chairs of council committees also have the option of public comment or testimony before their committees.

Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, meetings of this council and its committees are limited public forums. As such, the council is allowed to set reasonable rules that regulate the time, place and manner of public speech, including regulating the content of that speech, as long as the regulations do not support a specific viewpoint and are enforced in a neutral manner.

Over the course of the last few years, disruptive behavior by some individuals during council and committee meetings has hindered the body from accomplishing its business in an efficient manner. Examples of the disruptive behavior include:

• Refusing to speak to the subjects or ordinances at issue,
• Refusing to stop speaking when their comment or testimony period has expired,
• Speaking in loud voices directed at no one or indiscriminately at others attending a meeting causing the others in attendance to be unable to hear the proceedings,
• Using signs that block the view of others attending the meeting.

The disruptive behavior by such individuals has escalated in frequency and duration.

The ordinance amends the King County Code. It acknowledges the importance of public testimony while clearly presenting the rules relating to public participation at meetings:

• It specifies that the adopted rules of decorum will apply to all meetings of the council and committees (standing, regional and special),
• Establishes that it is a committee chair's discretion to allow public participation,
• Prohibits disruptive behavior and includes a non-exclusive list of examples of prohibited, disruptive behaviors.

The legislation also sets out the process by which a person, who is disruptive and refuses to comply with the chair's direction to cease, may be found out of order and removed from the meeting.

If a person continues to be disruptive for a specific period of time (is removed either from two or more committee meetings within a fifteen day period or from two or more consecutive meetings of the council), the council chair has the discretion to order the temporary exclusion of the individual from participation in public comment or testimony periods at future council or committee meetings or both.

An individual can be excluded for up to 28 days, but the legislation allows the majority of the council to overrule or modify the ban. There will also be an appeal process if the person feels that have been unjustly barred from testifying at council or committee meetings.

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