COUNTDOWN BEGINS: Virtual access to public meetings set to expire March 31, 2025

With virtual access to public meetings set to end a year from today, a coalition of disability rights, free press, open government, and other advocates today renewed their call for permanent reforms to guarantee hybrid access to open meetings.

The ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Center for Independent Living, Disability Law Center, Common Cause Massachusetts,  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:

“For four years, people in Massachusetts have been able to participate in state and local democracy in unprecedented ways; now, it’s time to strengthen the infrastructure of our 21st-century democracy — not retreat from progress. Hybrid access to public meetings has been transformative for people who previously faced barriers to exclusively in-person meetings — people who are immunocompromised or have a disability, people who have young children or care for disabled or aging family members, people with limited transit options, and more. Universal hybrid access is essential going forward.

“The countdown is on: If lawmakers don’t act this session, people with disabilities or other reasons they can’t attend meetings will be completely shut out when city councils, select boards, or school committees decide to hold meetings exclusively in person. Accessibility makes our democracy stronger, and we can’t afford to close the door on these perspectives and communities.”

The coalition supports a legislative proposal (H.3040/S.2024) that will ensure greater access to open meetings for everyone by requiring options for officials and members of the public to attend meetings in person or remotely. The bill is currently pending before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. 

The coalition recently criticized another bill, the Governor’s Municipal Empowerment Act, which proposes to give public bodies complete discretion about whether to offer remote or hybrid meeting access, because this would surely limit the public’s ability to participate. By contrast, the Legislature has embraced hybrid access for public hearings and other events, demonstrating the feasibility and importance of the coalition’s proposed reforms to the Open Meeting Law.