Legislature approves changes to laws on remote public meeting participation

The fourth round of COVID-19 relief legislation passed this week also brought changes to Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law. With the changes, meetings subject to the state’s open meeting laws will have more guidance for operating virtually – a practice that has become standard during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Going forward, all votes held during a meeting must be conducted by roll call so each member’s vote can be identified and recorded for each issue; additionally, members can be exempt from locating themselves in a public place at the advice of a health care professional during a peacetime emergency. Previously, the only exclusion to the state’s requirement for members to locate in public during the meeting was for those members serving the military who were required at a military function.

Most government-sponsored meetings – such as those held by locally elected bodies like the school board or state government agencies – are required by law to make their meetings accessible to the public. With the developments made in telecommuting technology, the Legislature made modifications to the law last year to make more accommodations for public officials serving in the military, whose military jobs may at times prevent them from attending meetings in person. In light of the COVID pandemic and subsequent social distancing and orders to stay at home, additional updates were needed to ensure public business could continue to move forward with the same level of transparency Minnesotans expect from their officials. (HF 4556)