The Massachusetts legislature has extended the option for public bodies subject to the Open Meeting Law to continue conducting meetings virtually, with remote access for members of the public. The option to hold virtual public meetings was set to expire statewide today.
Advocates—including the ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Common Cause Massachusetts, Disability Law Center, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, MASSPIRG, New England First Amendment Coalition, and New England Newspaper & Press Association—released the following joint statement in response:
“While we are pleased that remote access to and participation in public meetings remains an option through March, we are disappointed that the Massachusetts legislature could not agree on permanent reforms at this time. Lawmakers must prioritize this issue at the start of the next session; Massachusetts can’t afford to shut the door on members of the community who have too often been left out of our political process. Providing Bay Staters with the option to remotely participate in public meetings makes the democratic process more accessible for people with disabilities, and those who may not have access to reliable transportation, have caretaking responsibilities, or are unable to take a leave of absence from work, among other daily challenges. We must not return to an inequitable past as the Commonwealth moves forward.”
The groups—including disability rights and free press organizations—support legislation (H.3152/S.2082) that would permanently update the Open Meeting Law to require a hybrid meeting format so that members of the public can access and participate in public meetings remotely, in addition to the option of attending in person.