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CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | email@example.com
The New England First Amendment Coalition recently testified against changes to the Rhode Island Open Meeting Law that would allow public bodies to meet exclusively online with few in-person meeting requirements.
“With this legislation, members of public bodies can avoid directly facing journalists and other citizens before, during and after meetings,” wrote NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman on June 14 to the House State Government and Elections Committee.
“While there are great benefits to remote meeting technology, it should be used to expand public access to government and be provided in conjunction with in-person meetings. This legislation discourages that accessibility — and prevents the accountability that comes with public access and oversight,” he added.
Follow-up questions during meetings, for example, are a major problem, Silverman explained. Reporters can’t question officials about their decisions unless those officials are willing to do so afterward over the phone.
“All members of the public should be able to approach their officials and speak to them about the decisions they’re making,” Silverman wrote. “A quick disconnect via Zoom often makes that impossible.”
The legislation — 21-H 5891A — also proposes a two-year sunset provision which Silverman explained is too long for any new changes to the state’s Open Meeting Law. One year, he wrote, would be more appropriate and allow a better opportunity for assessment.
“During the last 16 months, we have seen both the benefits and failings of remote meetings,” Silverman wrote. “There is certainly a tremendous upside to providing online access to governmental meetings: public participation increases. But a system that provides citizens online access only is one ripe for abuse.”
NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. Learn more about how NEFAC is protecting the free press and open government in New England.
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.
Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.