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Access/RI, a group of open government advocates in Rhode Island that includes the New England First Amendment Coalition, recently wrote to Gov. Daniel McKee urging him to issue an executive order that would allow government bodies to once again hold online meetings and require remote access for members of the public.
The groups wrote to the governor out of concern about the lack of accessibility to government caused by the current wave of COVID-19 infections.
“Because of this new pandemic wave, it is our understanding that some public bodies have had difficulty garnering quorums to meet in person due to the health concerns of some members,” the groups wrote in a Sept. 23 letter. “Just as importantly, we know that some members of the public have been reluctant to attend public meetings for those same reasons.”
“While some public bodies are continuing to livestream their meetings and allow remote public participation, many others are not, leaving constituents with the choice of participating in their government only if they are prepared to risk their health and that of those close to them,” the groups explained.
From March 2020 to July 2021 Govs. Gina Raimondo and McKee issued a series of executive orders that waived the requirement that members of government bodies meet in person and instead allowed “adequate alternative access” to those meetings for members of the public. The latest version of those orders was allowed to expire in July.
Earlier this year state legislatures in both Connecticut and Massachusetts codified similar executive orders until the spring of 2022. The Rhode Island General Assembly considered legislation that would have allowed for remote participation for both members of government bodies and the public until July of 2023, a timeframe Access/RI opposed for being too long.
“Since these emergency executive orders last only thirty days,” the groups wrote in their letter, “the decision whether to reissue them will occur on a regular basis and can take into account, as decisions regarding the previous orders did, their continued necessity based on the progress in countering the latest wave of the pandemic.”
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.
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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.