Legislative committee advances bill to modernize Open Meeting Law, guarantee hybrid meetings    

With the option to hold virtual public meetings set to expire statewide on March 2025, the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight today advanced a bill (H.4771) that would update the Open Meeting Law to require hybrid meetings, guaranteeing members of the public the ability to participate in state and municipal meetings remotely as well as in person. Several advocacy organizations, including disability rights and free press organizations, today applauded the move. 

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:

 “We thank Chair Cabral, Chair Collins, and all the committee members for their dedicated work on this legislation. Across the Commonwealth, hybrid public meeting access – where people can participate either in-person or remotely – has significantly increased public participation in state and local government, and has lowered barriers for people with disabilities, people with limited access to transportation, and people with work and family obligations. This legislation is critical because it guarantees hybrid access instead of simply leaving it up to each body to conduct meetings according to personal preference. When a public body closes the door to remote access, in particular, they close the door to large groups of civic-minded residents. In the wake of the pandemic, too many government bodies have reverted to in-person-only meetings, disenfranchising people with disabilities and others. We hope that when the legislature considers this legislation, they prioritize permanent reforms that guarantee hybrid public access as soon as possible. More transparent and accessible government means a stronger democracy for all.”

As the end of the legislative session on July 31 nears, advocacy organizations warn that newly opened doors to civic engagement will be shut – and people with disabilities and other barriers to in-person participation will be shut out – unless legislation is passed to guarantee hybrid public meeting options under the Open Meeting Law.

H.4771 would update the Open Meeting Law to permanently enable members of the public to access and participate in public meetings remotely, in addition to the option of attending in person. The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight gave a favorable report to the redrafted bill, which was sent to the House Committee on Ways & Means.