(a) The commission shall, if it determines that it has sufficient resources, establish one or more scientific panels to review technical documents and reports and to give advice and make recommendations to the commission prior to making decisions requiring scientific expertise and analysis not available to the commission through its staff resources. It is the intent of the Legislature that the commission base any such technical decisions on scientific expertise and advice. The panel or panels may be composed of, but not limited to, persons with expertise and training in marine biology, fisheries, geology, coastal geomorphology, geographic information systems, water quality, hydrology, ocean and coastal engineering, economics, and social sciences.
(b) Members of a panel, while performing duties required by this division or by the commission, shall be entitled to the same rights and immunities granted public employees by Article 3 (commencing with Section 820) of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of Division 3.6 of Title 1 of the Government Code. Those rights and immunities shall attach to the member as of the date of appointment of the person to the panel.
(c) The commission is encouraged to seek funding from any appropriate public or private source, and may apply for and expend any grant or endowment funds, for the purposes of this section. Any funding made available to the commission for these purposes shall be reported to the fiscal committee of each house of the Legislature at the time the commission’s budget is being formally reviewed.
(d) The commission is encouraged to utilize innovative techniques to increase effective communication between the commission and the scientific community, including the use of existing grant programs and volunteers, in order to improve and strengthen the technical basis of its planning and regulatory decisions.