FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The New England First Amendment Coalition joined other Massachusetts advocates today to support legislation making permanent both in-person and remote access to government meetings.
H.4991 would require public bodies subject to the Open Meeting Law to allow members of the public to attend in person and via remote access. The bill would also ensure that remote access is available on an equal basis for people with disabilities.
“This is a critical step to make government more transparent, improve equitable access, and strengthen civic engagement,” wrote NEFAC and groups including the ACLU of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts and the New England Newspaper & Press Association to state legislators in a July 9 letter.
The groups also made the following recommendations to strengthen the bill’s language and increase public access to government:
(1) Maintain existing exemptions from Open Meeting Law strictures for Disability Commissions.
(2) Make minor adjustments to language regarding equitable access for persons with disabilities.
(3) Enable members of the public body who need to participate remotely as a reasonable accommodation to count toward the in-person attendance requirement.
(4) Clarify that “remote access” includes the opportunity, when members of the public are permitted to offer input to a meeting of a public body, for people attending the meeting remotely to do the same.
(5) Maintain 50 percent in-person requirement for members of the public body.
(6) Require notice to be posted both online and in a physical location.
“Across the Commonwealth,” the groups wrote, “remote access to public meetings has significantly increased public participation in state and local government, and has lowered longstanding barriers for people with disabilities, people with limited access to transportation, and people with work and family obligations.”
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 include the Rhode Island Foundation, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.