A 2019 law allows a member of a public body, such as a city council, to participate in meetings via interactive television up to three times per year, as long as the participant’s remote location is also open or accessible to the public.
The law is meant to allow meeting participation for members who may not be able to attend in person because, for example, they are undergoing treatment for an illness, but want to continue to serve in their position without violating the state’s open meeting law.
The House Government Operations Committee on Wednesday approved a plan to make a change to that law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sponsored by Rep. Erin Koegel (DFL-Spring Lake Park), HF4507, as amended, would allow the interactive participation from locations not accessible to the public, if the participant has been advised against being in a public space by a medical professional. This allowance would only apply during a declared state of emergency, and for up to 60 days after that emergency declaration ended.
Meeting remotely themselves due to the pandemic, members used a 15-0 roll-call vote to send the bill to the House Floor. There is no Senate companion.
“This is particularly important to local governments because their governing bodies are a lot smaller,” Koegel said. “Townships might only have three supervisors and cities often only have five council members – so if one or two members can’t be there, that really endangers the cities to be able to act.
“I think this COVID-19 has made it more likely that we’ll see people who will not be able to participate, or who will have to be quarantined or self-isolated.”
Several organizations, including the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Association of Townships and the Minnesota School Boards Association, sent a letter to the committee in support of the bill. They said the current state of emergency declared by Gov. Tim Walz in March allows local governments to meet virtually under a different state statute. But that authority will end when the emergency declaration does.
“This bill would allow any elected officials who are sick or have been advised by a doctor to self-quarantine to govern to the best of their ability while keeping themselves and others safe and healthy,” they wrote. “Accordingly, we ask for your support of HF4507.”