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    Locke Lord QuickStudy: Complying with Open Meeting Laws in ‎Massachusetts During COVID-19

    Locke Lord Publications

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    The unprecedented effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected state ‎and local governments in many ways, including if, or how, they can reform their standard ‎operations in a manner that ensures the safety and wellbeing of the public, staff, and its members. ‎One concern is ensuring compliance with open meeting laws. In Massachusetts, “public bodies” ‎are required under Section 20 of Chapter 30A of the General Laws to hold all meetings of such ‎public body open to the public.‎1 ‎ Furthermore, subsection (d) requires that at least a quorum of the ‎public body be physically present at the meeting location, even if remote participation has been ‎authorized in accordance with Section 20.‎2

    Governor Baker, on March 12th, issued an order relieving public bodies from the ‎requirements of Section 20 as it relates to hosting meetings in public and establishing a physical ‎quorum at the meeting location.‎3‎ Such relief, however, comes with an alternative requirement that ‎the public body must ensure public access to its deliberations through “adequate, alternative ‎means.” “Adequate, alternative means” are “measures that provide transparency and permit ‎timely and effective public access to the deliberations of the public body.”‎4 Examples referenced ‎by the Governor’s order include audio or video teleconferencing through telephone, internet or ‎satellite technology that enable the public to “clearly follow the proceedings of the public body ‎while those activities are occurring.”‎5

    The method chosen by the public body must also allow for active, real-time participation ‎by members of the public whenever such participation is required under general or special law or ‎regulation (or, with respect to cities and towns, by local ordinance or by-law). Additionally, ‎whatever method is chosen must be freely accessible without any subscription, toll or similar ‎charge to the public.‎6

    When economic hardship, despite its best efforts, prohibits a municipal public body from ‎providing alternative means of public access where the public can follow the proceedings in real ‎time, the public body may instead post a full and complete transcript, recording, or other ‎comprehensive record of its proceedings on its municipal website. Such exception does not ‎apply, however, to meetings that require allowance for active participation by members of the ‎public as described in the paragraph above.‎

    Ensuring continuity of government operations remains a priority across the country. Other ‎‎states have taken, or will likely take, similar actions to relieve their bodies of open meeting law ‎‎compliance as the virus spreads. Your regular Locke Lord contact and the authors of this article ‎‎would be happy to ‎help you navigate compliance with open meeting laws as they continue to ‎‎evolve based on current events.‎

    Please visit our COVID-19 Resource Center often for up-to-date information to help you ‎stay informed of the legal issues related to COVID-19.‎

     

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    1 MASS. GEN. LAWS ch. 30A, § 20(a)‎ 
    2 Id. at §20(d).‎
    ‎3 Mass. Exec. Order Suspending Certain Provisions of the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, § 20 (March 12, 2020), ‎https://www.mass.gov/doc/open-meeting-law-order-march-12-2020/download.‎
    ‎4 Id.
    5 Id.‎ 
    6 Id.‎

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