NEFAC, Mass. Open Government Advocates Call on State to Provide Funding for Remote, Hybrid Meetings

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The New England First Amendment Coalition is calling for federal money to be directed to Massachusetts towns and municipalities in need of equipment for online and hybrid meetings.

NEFAC joined several other open government groups in the state to urge the use of American Rescue Plan Act money “to create a grant program to improve the technological capacity of our cities and towns to conduct accessible public meetings — by enabling residents to join a meeting and contribute to the proceedings both in person and remotely.”

The American Rescue Plan Act intends to provide relief to those, including state and local governments, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Sept. 28 letter drafted by the ACLU of Massachusetts, NEFAC and fellow advocates explained that:

Even as some public bodies begin to return to in-person meetings, the continued presence of COVID-19, its variants, and breakthrough cases will mean that vulnerable residents will continue to need remote access to public meetings. To safeguard public health, many municipalities will need to upgrade their meeting rooms in order to have adequate internet capacity, cameras and microphones to capture the activity in the room, the means for people in the room to hear and converse with remote participants in real time, and technological support for municipal officials adopting new technology.

“By conducting meetings that are both in-person and also accessible remotely, cities and towns can protect public health, maximize public participation, and minimize exclusion from the workings of democracy,” the groups wrote. “But the ability of towns to do this will hinge entirely on access to funding for the technological purchases, upgrades and space redesigns that make this public access possible.”

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.

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 and Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, the Robertson Foundation, WBUR, Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, and the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation.