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June 16, 2021

Legal Update
Kate R. Cook

Massachusetts Legislature Extends Remote Participation In and Remote Access To Open Meetings

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Baker issued an Executive Order on March 12, 2020, allowing state and local government bodies to conduct meetings remotely, provided that the public body took steps to ensure public access to the deliberations through adequate, alternative means. Allowing their members and the public to participate in open meetings remotely has significantly increased participation for many public bodies.

On June 16, 2021, the Governor signed legislation that extends remote participation in open meetings until April 1, 2022. Here’s what you need to know about the temporary expansion of remote participation under the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law:

  1. A public body may allow remote participation by all members in any meeting of the public body. A quorum of the body and the chair will no longer be required to be physically present at a specified meeting location.
     
  2. The public will have remote access to open meetings held remotely free of charge through measures that provide transparency and allow timely and effective access to the public bodies’ deliberations. Acceptable means of remote public access include telephone, internet, satellite-enabled audio or video conferencing, “or any other technology that enables the public to clearly follow the proceedings of the public body while those activities are occurring.”
     
  3. The law provides a hardship waiver for municipalities unable to provide remote access due to economic hardship and despite best efforts. Those municipalities must instead post on the municipal website a full and complete transcript, recording, or other comprehensive record of the proceedings as soon as feasible upon conclusion of the meeting.

For guidance on the expansion of remote meetings and any other Open Meeting Law compliance questions, contact the government law practice group at Sugarman Rogers.