The pandemic brought with it many changes to the world of local government, including temporary authorization during the state of emergency to allow members of public bodies to meet remotely. Well, you better shake off the Zoom fatigue. The Governor just signed LD 32, An Act Regarding Remote Participation in Public Proceedings!
This act, effective now and codified as 1 M.R.S. § 403-B, allows public bodies (select boards, planning boards, etc.) to adopt a written policy authorizing members of that body and the public to participate in meetings remotely. As long as certain conditions are met, a member may participate remotely only when their physical presence is “not practicable.”
The statute gives a non-exhaustive list of examples of such circumstances, including:
- An emergency that requires the public body to meet remotely.
- An illness, physical condition, or temporary absence from the jurisdiction which makes it significantly difficult to travel to attend in person.
- A body with a statewide jurisdiction where the member must travel a significant distance to attend in person.
- The body’s area of jurisdiction includes geographic characteristics that impede or slow travel.
Because this list is merely illustrative, not exhaustive, policies and interpretations of those policies may slightly differ for each public body. The law now says that if a member can participate remotely, the body must provide the public a meaningful opportunity to also attend by remote methods. A policy may also provide reasonable accommodations necessary to allow individuals with disabilities to participate remotely.
When using remote methods, the public body must make all materials considered by the public body available, electronically or otherwise, to the public who attend by remote methods to the same extent customarily available to those who attend the proceedings in person. As long as the public body does not incur additional costs.
Many of the law’s other requirements mirror the rules of the remote proceeding in place during the pandemic. A member that participates remotely is present for purposes of a quorum and voting. All votes taken at a public proceeding conducted using remote methods must be taken by roll call
Technology must allow for effective communication amongst members and between the members and the public. As is the case now, remote participation is not allowed for town meetings or regional school unit budget meetings. Our municipal and land use attorneys are available to draft such policies. We can help you understand how this law may impact your proceeding pending before a public body.
Stephen W. Wagner, Esq