We are writing to advise our clients on the status of certain COVID-19 related measures under the Open Meeting Law regarding holding remote meetings and remote public access to meetings. Under the most recent legislation, Chapter 22 of the Acts of 2022, these measures expire this Friday, July 15, 2022. While the Senate has passed legislation that would extend the July 15, 2022 expiration to December 15, 2023, the House is still considering competing versions of the legislation which would only extend the provisions until March 15, 2023 and would make other permanent changes to the Open Meeting Law.
If the Legislature does not enact any changes or extensions, then beginning on July 15 meetings of public bodies will need to resume taking place in person at locations that are open and accessible to the public with at least a quorum of the public body physically present. At that point, remote participation procedures will revert to pre-COVID-19, and remote participation will not be permissible, with some exceptions, unless the local chief executive (typically the mayor in cities and select boards in towns) authorizes remote participation in accordance with 940 CMR 29.10. Remember, a member can only attend remotely if physical attendance is unreasonably difficult.
Public bodies that want the ability to meet remotely should post for a hybrid format meeting, informing the public that some members may attend remotely and that the public may observe remotely. If the legislation passes and the provisions allowing remote meetings are extended, the public body can meet fully remotely, that is, with no members attending in person. To protect against an Open Meeting Law violation, it is advisable to revise the notice immediately to inform the public that no members will attend in person. In addition, if the notice is amended within 48 hours of the meeting, the Town should set up a computer or other device to allow those who appear at the physical location referenced in the originally posted notice to still attend the meeting.
Please contact us as further questions arise.
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