AB 1637 and Website Domains: What This Means for Public Agencies
The world of local government is full of reward, growth and impact. But if you’ve worked in that world for more than a day, you know it can also be full of challenges — and our team at Tripepi Smith witnesses that firsthand as we partner with agencies across California in their communication efforts.
From budget constraints and aging infrastructure to extreme weather events, local agencies face a multitude of obstacles. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is ever-evolving regulatory requirements, often resulting in the dreaded “unfunded mandate.” Tripepi Smith keeps a pulse on key legislation that may impact our local government partners, and Assembly Bill (AB) 1637 is an important bill to note.
What is AB 1637?
AB 1637, authored by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, requires local agencies to migrate public websites and/or email addresses to a .gov or .ca.gov domain by January 1, 2029. At its core, the bill seeks to provide website users with a quick and simple way to confirm that they are accessing an official California governmental resource. The bill stems from a grant program recommendation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security surrounding the cybersecurity of local governments.
The bill was approved by Governor Newsom on October 8, 2023 and applies to both cities and counties. Special districts were excluded from the bill’s requirements due to recent amendments.
What is the process for a domain change?
In order to change their website domain, cities and counties must submit a request through California’s Domain Name Request System. We recommend that agencies with lengthy names pursue shortened website domains, like the City of La Cañada Flintridge has done already (lcf.ca.gov).
The good news: AB 1637 states that local agencies qualify for a .gov domain without paying any registration or domain fees. However, there is already a backlog resulting from the legislation, so expect substantial delays in the migration process. Also keep in mind that all .ca.gov domains require an annual renewal, so it’s important to strategically track your renewal status once you have successfully made the change.
As a general practice, all agencies should be monitoring domain name ownership on a yearly basis to ensure they do not lose access to or control of relevant domains — regardless of whether they’ve migrated to a .ca.gov domain. There should also be thorough documentation of where and how all domain names are managed.
What does this mean for local governments?
Increased cybersecurity is an important priority. However, AB 1637 may pose a challenge to local governments that are already struggling to respond to the many needs within their communities. Cities and counties with dedicated IT departments may be able to take care of this in-house, while others may need to utilize third-party resources to help them through the process.
Public agencies will also need to consider how they announce their new website domain to their community. In the weeks or months leading up to the change, what communication will need to go out and which platforms can agencies leverage? To ensure constituents are aware of this transition, agencies will want to utilize a variety of tools: for example, a dedicated weekly email to all subscribers, a series of social media posts, signage at City/County facilities or a brief message on the website homepage that stays up for a short period after the switch. Savvy agencies may even choose to keep their existing domains and redirect them to the new one, ensuring that those searching for the “old” website will find their way to the new one.
Finally, agencies will need to update all internal and external outreach with the new website domain. Social media sites, email signatures, e-newsletter templates, Google Business Listings, you name it — there will be a host of materials and platforms to update. Assigning a particular staff member or consulting partner to oversee this process may prevent diffusion of responsibility and ensure all updates are completed smoothly.
What resources are available to you?
We know this process may feel daunting, and we’ve assembled a few helpful resources to get you started. FAQs on the Domain Name Request System are available online. The State also provides a lengthy manual on domain name registration, grouped by organization type. For the full nuances of AB 1637, agencies can read the bill itself.
In addition, there are partner relationships that will prove valuable. Most agencies will need to work with their website provider (e.g. Granicus, CivicPlus, Streamline) to complete the domain migration process. Tripepi Smith is also happy to leverage our team of website gurus to provide project management, expertise and general assistance throughout the transition.
To utilize our support on domain migration or other areas of communication, contact our team!