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The New England First Amendment Coalition is continuing its push for both in-person and remote access requirements for public meetings in Massachusetts.
In a Dec. 20 letter to state legislators — signed by NEFAC and other open government advocates in the state including the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association — the groups reaffirmed their general support for H.3152/S.2082, An Act to Modernize Participation in Public Meetings.
The act would require meetings subject to the state’s open meeting law be conducted in a hybrid form, with both in-person and remote participation options, unless a public body obtains a hardship waiver from the Attorney General’s Office.
The groups explained, however, that certain changes should be made to the bill to further increase the level of access citizens would have to their government. Those suggestions include:
• Require that remote meeting participation options be maximally accessible to people with disabilities.
• Remove audio-only access from the definition of “adequate, alternative means of public access.” In a video world, audio-only access is sub-standard and inadequate, particularly for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
• Flesh out the procedure for public bodies to seek a hardship waiver, requiring an
opportunity for public comment and an annual renewal of any waiver.
• In the event that a public body obtains a hardship waiver, require them to maintain remote access rather than perpetuate inequity by reverting to in-person meetings.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, it is clear that remote and hybrid public meetings are here to stay — and that’s a good thing,” the groups wrote. “Using videoconferencing has increased democratic participation in open meetings overall and especially improved equitable access by people with disabilities, seniors, people with limited access to transportation, and parents of young children.”
NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition regularly writes and joins advocacy letters in cases involving First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.
Learn more about how NEFAC is helping during the COVID-19 pandemic here.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Leadership Circle donors for 2021 include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, WBUR-Boston, the Academy of New England Journalists, Genie Gannett and Linda Pizzuti Henry.