Virtual Open Meetings Law reauthorized

On Board Online • September 27, 2021

By John Daley
Governmental Relations Representative

On Sept. 2, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bill package that resulted from early September's extraordinary session of the Legislature. Included in this package was a reauthorization of the ability of school boards and other local governments to meet virtually under the Open Meetings Law.

Virtual open meetings were previously authorized by executive order during the state's COVID-19 disaster declaration. During that period, local government bodies, including school boards, were able to hold their meetings virtually without permitting in-person attendance of members or the public. This ability effectively ended upon the expiration of the disaster declaration in June 2021.

The new law reauthorizes virtual meetings until Jan. 15, 2022. Boards may meet via conference call or a similar service (such as videoconferencing), so long as two conditions are met. First, the public must have the ability to view or listen to the proceedings. Second, the proceedings must be recorded and later transcribed. Under this law, holding meetings virtually is at the discretion of local officials and is not a requirement.

This issue is likely to come up in some form during the coming legislative session, and the law could be modified based on feedback from school boards and other forms of local government. One issue: how do notice requirements come into play?

Under existing state law, board members must publicly notice how and from where they are virtually participating. This practice is not changed by the new law and remains in place. This can be a cause for concern among participating board members, as it often means the location of an individual's home residence must be publicly disclosed.

Another issue: should the ability to meet remotely exist on a permanent basis to cope with future states of emergency (e.g., weather conditions)?

"NYSSBA supported similar legislation this past session," said Brian Fessler, director of governmental relations. "We are pleased to see this virtual meeting flexibility, at local discretion, restored for the near future. We will continue to work with legislators on the issue of virtual meetings as we approach a new legislative session in January."

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