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The New England First Amendment Coalition supports a legislative effort to clarify the responsibilities of public officials under Vermont’s freedom of information laws but cautions that additional changes are still needed.
Vermont House Bill 910 would add definitions to the state’s open meetings law that better explain which activities do not constitute an official meeting under the statute. HB 910 would also update certain time provisions under the open meetings law and require the state to maintain a public records cataloguing system.
One of the more significant changes the bill would make is defining “promptly” – the time in which government officials are expected to release public records when requested – as immediate, with little or no delay. Currently, it can take up to three days to obtain even routine public records.
“Generally, we’re very supportive of this bill,” testified Michael Donoghue, first vice president of NEFAC, at an April 4 hearing. But, he added, “it doesn’t go quite far enough.”
For example, Donoghue suggested additional language prohibiting any discussion “of substance” between a quorum of officials when speaking about administrative issues, like setting an agenda for a meeting. While this is implied in the bill, Donoghue said, there should instead be an explicit reminder in the law.
NEFAC regularly advocates for open government in Vermont, most recently opposing a proposal to extend the deadline for posting public meeting minutes. The coalition has also fought for the public’s right to record in the state’s courtrooms, demanded protections for student journalists and argued against a loophole in the Vermont Public Records Act that would have allowed officials to use private email accounts to avoid public scrutiny.
Learn more about NEFAC’s work in Vermont here.
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.
here.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
Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.