Does the Open Meeting Law need an update?

Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 11:29 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Could changes be coming to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law? Advocates and officials say the law as it is now is a little vague.

Municipalities are looking to take on the open meeting law, which sets the standards for towns in terms of meeting warnings and public participation.

“The Open Meeting law is really about protecting the public’s right to know, the public’s right to attend meetings, and the public’s right to participate,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.

Recently, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns voted on a list of policies they’d like to see the legislature implement. They include keeping remote participation available beyond the pandemic era, only allowing someone to request the same public information twice within a year, and including funding to keep up with technology needed to comply with the Open Meeting Law.

“We will use the municipal policy as a guide when we go to the state house to discuss any legislative issue to discuss municipalities,” Karen Horn, with VLTC, said.

There are some other things not everyone seems to be on board with. One is their suggestions is to change the requirement for posting minutes from ten days after a meeting instead of five. Condos says that doesn’t make a lot of sense in way of government transparency.

“I would argue the public has a right to know and how would they know if they can’t get ahold of those minutes,” Condos explained. “I really think technology has really changed the timing that has come along, as well as getting minutes prepared. You can do it easier today than ever before.” Condos also mentioned that draft minutes meet the requirement for posting.

However, he does agree the law as it stands could use some clarification and expansion. For example, how does it apply to non-statutory bodies? Justin Silverman, with the New England First Amendment Coalition agrees, saying opening dialogue about the law is a good first step. “Anytime we’re discussing changes to the Open Meeting Law, we need to get specific and make sure everyone has clear expectations as to what the governments expectations to the public are and how the public can best access government,” Silverman said.

Additionally, VLCT in towns is hoping this law will eventually extend to the legislature. “The open meeting law and public records act really doesn’t apply to the legislative branch of government, but we think it’s necessary the legislature be subject to the Open Meeting Law for any number of reasons,” Horn said.

Finally, they hope to drop the requirement for meeting notices to be printed in physical newspaper, citing the cost. VLTC says the only place that seems necessary is areas without broadband.

The legislature has not taken any of these suggestions up. Whether they will is to be determined.

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