New PAR Commentary: Going Virtual

Pandemic showed some benefits to meeting online, but widening virtual meeting authority should protect citizen access

Louisiana learned the benefits and pitfalls of moving public meetings online during the last two years of
the coronavirus pandemic, with more people able to view the decision-making of their elected officials
but often with fewer opportunities for public comment.

As more boards and commissions seek to rewrite Louisiana’s open meetings law and gather remotely,
the Public Affairs Research Council is urging a cautious, thoughtful and comprehensive approach that
prioritizes public participation. Lawmakers should develop a holistic set of guidelines for state government bodies seeking to meet online or through teleconference, rather than pass a series of piecemeal measures that give various boards and commissions the ability to meet virtually with different rules and nonuniform requirements.

The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the need for more flexibility for the state’s committees, boards and commissions to conduct business remotely in certain circumstances. But Louisiana’s exit from the emergency phase of the pandemic offers the right time to review best practices and make smart decisions about virtual meetings.

Conducting a state meeting via Zoom, by phone or through some other online method can offer greater
access to government for people who live hours away from Baton Rouge and can’t easily travel, but can
conversely limit access to those without strong, consistent internet access. Requiring a physical location
for a meeting, along with an online option, could possibly address those conflicting problems.

Lawmakers need to think through such concerns, while also considering ways to encourage more public
oversight of government, not less.

The Legislature, for example, has an excellent livestreaming system on its website for people to watch
the action in the House and Senate and their committees. But being able to follow along remotely isn’t
the same as participating and offering comment.

If boards and commissions want to move more of their work to virtual meetings, they need to … Continue Reading Full Commentary >>>

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