Legislature adopts bill for virtual local government meetings during emergencies
Today, the first of 3 bills supported by the Platte Institute making temporary regulatory changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic permanent was passed by the Nebraska Legislature.
LB83 was introduced by Sen. Mike Flood on January 7, 2021. The Platte Institute submitted a position letter of support for the bill’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on January 27, 2021. Acknowledging the importance of this bill to our state’s public bodies, LB83 was given a priority designation by the committee.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed multiple antiquated rules in existence in our state. Nebraska’s “Open Meetings Act” was one such example. During a time of crisis, public officials need to be able to rapidly coordinate and execute action plans, but rules had to be waived to facilitate the ability for public officials to carry out needed actions.
LB83 modernizes Nebraska’s Open Meetings Act in efforts to allow public bodies to conduct ongoing business meetings virtually in the event of an emergency declaration by either the governor or a principal executive officer of a local government.
The bill defines “virtual conferencing” as “conducting or participating in a meeting electronically or telephonically with interaction among the participants.” Public bodies planning to conduct business through virtual conferencing must:
- provide reasonable advanced public notice,
- designate at least one location for in-person meeting participation, and
- make the meeting’s agenda and any discussion related documents available to the public.
Senators adopted LB83 unanimously by a 43-0 vote with an emergency clause attached. That means the provisions become law immediately upon being signed by the governor.
We supported LB83 not only because it will allow local governments to tend to the emergency needs of their jurisdictions, but also its transparency aspect of allowing the public to be able to attend and learn about the decisions being made to assure their safety and welfare.