Legislative Changes to Open Meeting Act during COVID-19 State of Emergency

DT: Wednesday, March 18, 2020 1:30 p.m.
TO: All OPA Member Publishers and Editors
FR: Mark Thomas, Executive Vice President 405-659-3966 mobile mthomas@okpress.com

RECENTLY ENACTED LEGISLATIVE CHANGES TO OPEN MEETING ACT
DURING COVID-19 STATE OF EMERGENCY – Senate Bill 661

On Tuesday, March 17, the Oklahoma State Legislature made some emergency changes to the Open Meetings Act. The bill included the “emergency clause” and went into effect immediately upon signature of the Governor this morning. Senate Bill 661 is designed to be a temporary measure that will cease to be in effect when the Governor lifts the COVID-19 state of emergency OR on November 15, 2020 – whichever occurs first.

The Legislature was compelled to act quickly to allow public bodies to meet telephonically to continue to do government business with some transparency to the public and press. Both legislative bodies – House and Senate – are now adjourned until the call of the chair, meaning they may not reconvene for several days (or even weeks depending on the severity of the crisis) which is why they wanted to get this done before going leaving the Capitol. There may be a “trailer bill” filed before the legislative session ends in May to clean up some imperfections in this temporary law.

Oklahoma’s Attorney General Mike Hunter and I spoke while the new law was being considered by the House and Senate. General Hunter promised to write and provide an FAQ to help guide us all through this unprecedented time and application of this temporary law. Attached to this email is a copy of the FAQ #1 from the Oklahoma Attorney General. They will release FAQ #1 to state agencies and political subdivisions (cities, schools, counties, etc.) asap today.

Remember that public bodies are not required to do video or telephonic meetings under this law. They can continue to operate as they always have. There are many states that currently uses various forms of telephonic meetings so it isn’t the end of the world, but it will be a different world for a while.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1. Contact all of the public bodies you cover and make sure you are on the list to receive all agendas and meeting notices, especially if they are going to hold virtual meetings.

2. Be checking government web sites or other electronic distribution methods for posting of agendas to public meetings.

3. Be prepared to tape record meetings as you listen in to video and telephone meetings. There will still be written minutes of meetings and the AG is strongly suggesting the public bodies tape record all telephonic meetings. However, having your own recording may be the most helpful to you in the short term. (Who knows how long it will take for a local public body to prepare and provide you with a recording of the meeting.)

» Read FAQ #1 from Attorney General Mike Hunter

» Read FAQ #2 from Attorney General Mike Hunter  (added March 26, 2020)

» Read entire SB 661