NEFAC, Open Government Advocates Applaud Massachusetts House’s Hybrid Hearing Plans

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

Massachusetts House of Representatives leadership and the House Reopening Working Group announced March 23 that it “will work with the Senate to formalize a hybrid hearing model that allows in-person participation at hearings while retaining the benefits of remote access.”

Advocates — including the New England First Amendment Coalition, ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, Disability Law Center, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, MASSPIRG and New England Newspaper & Press Association — released the following joint statement in response:

“We thank House leadership and the House Reopening Working Group for their commitment to government transparency and equitable access to our democratic process, and applaud plans to develop a hybrid hearing model that retains the benefits of remote access for the public. Across the Commonwealth, 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. After the pandemic, access to the democratic process should not hinge on a person’s health or disability, or their ability to afford a car, get time off work, or find a care provider. More transparent and accessible government means a stronger democracy for all, and we appreciate that the House is leading by example.”

The groups — including disability rights and free press organizations — support legislation to modernize the Open Meeting Law to make remote access for public meetings permanent and routine.

H.3152/S.2082, currently pending before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, would update the Open Meeting Law to permanently enable members of the public to access and participate in public meetings remotely, in addition to the option of attending in person.

While the Open Meeting Law does not apply to the Legislature, the groups hope the Legislature will adopt joint rules that continue to enable members of the public to observe hearings and offer testimony by video, and will ensure necessary technology is in place at the State House to help make sure remote formats, in-person legislative proceedings, and related communications are accessible to all Massachusetts residents.

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 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, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.