NEFAC, Mass. Open Government Advocates Call for Permanent Reform with Virtual Access to Public Meetings Set to Expire in One Year

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

With virtual access to public meetings set to end a year from today, the New England First Amendment Coalition and a group of Massachusetts disability rights, free press, open government, and other advocates renewed their call for permanent reforms to guarantee hybrid access to open meetings.

NEFAC, along with the ACLU of MassachusettsBoston Center for Independent LivingDisability Law CenterCommon Cause MassachusettsLeague of Women Voters of MassachusettsMassachusetts Newspaper Publishers AssociationMASSPIRG and the New England Newspaper and Press Association released the following joint statement:

“For four years, people in Massachusetts have been able to participate in state and local democracy in unprecedented ways; now, it’s time to strengthen the infrastructure of our 21st-century democracy — not retreat from progress. Hybrid access to public meetings has been transformative for people who previously faced barriers to exclusively in-person meetings — people who are immunocompromised or have a disability, people who have young children or care for disabled or aging family members, people with limited transit options, and more. Universal hybrid access is essential going forward.

“The countdown is on: If lawmakers don’t act this session, people with disabilities or other reasons they can’t attend meetings will be completely shut out when city councils, select boards, or school committees decide to hold meetings exclusively in person. Accessibility makes our democracy stronger, and we can’t afford to close the door on these perspectives and communities.”

The groups support a legislative proposal (H.3040/S.2024) that will ensure greater access to open meetings for everyone by requiring options for officials and members of the public to attend meetings in person or remotely. The bill is currently pending before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

The groups recently criticized another bill, the Governor’s Municipal Empowerment Act, which proposes to give public bodies complete discretion about whether to offer remote or hybrid meeting access, because this would surely limit the public’s ability to participate. By contrast, the Legislature has embraced hybrid access for public hearings and other events, demonstrating the feasibility and importance of the coalition’s proposed reforms to the Open Meeting Law.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, letters and statements can be found here.

Want to learn more about the Massachusetts public records law? Check out NEFAC’s multimedia FOI Guide for video tutorials, interviews with journalists and legal experts, legislation trackers and more.

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, the Champa Charitable Foundation Fund, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.