Vt. bill would extend public remote meeting option

Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 4:40 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A bill that would allow elected leaders to continue remote meetings without a designated physical location is on Governor Phil Scott’s desk.

This comes after Act 78 expired last week, which had permitted an online option for public meetings when COVID began. One public body subject to Vermont’s open meeting law is school boards. Vermont School Board Association Executive Director Sue Ceglowski says it’s her sense that today, most boards do have a physical in-person location, but that many provide a hybrid option too, which seems to be working quite well.

“School board members, they have jobs or they’re business owners, and these committee meetings often happen during the week. So the option to attend those types of meetings remotely can be quite helpful,” Ceglowski said.

House Bill 42 would extend the remote option until July 2024, the end of the next biennium. Representative Mike McCarthy, D-St. Albans, is one lawmaker who sponsored the bill. He says the extension gives the Legislature time to look at the future of open meetings, and remote authority for the long-term, weighing questions of equity and access, like broadband.

“We really want to push pause and say, what do public bodies need to have as a minimum set of requirements if they’re going to have these remote meetings? It’s one thing to do it occasionally when the need presents itself for some convenience, but if you’re regularly going to have meetings with no physical location, there should be some basic best practices and minimum requirements. Because if you can’t hear what’s going on in a meeting and you’re not able to participate fully if you’re attending it remotely, and the meeting doesn’t have a physical location, that can be a problem,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy anticipates the Governor will sign the bill this week.