You are here

Problems with Solutions to the Open Meeting Law March 20, 2015 On Wednesday, the Senate Government Operations Committee finally took up S.114, a bill containing several proposals made by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to address issues that municipal officials have brought up trying to comply with the Open Meeting Law amendments passed last year. At first we encountered bad news. And then it got worse. First, we were informed that there had been a misunderstanding as to whether the bill could still be considered by the House this year, given that it had not met the Senate “cross-over” rule that requires that such bills had to be out of committee by March 13. It now appears that it will take an extra special effort to wrench the bill from the Senate Rules Committee, to which the Senate rule requires it to be referred if it ever emerges from the Government Operations Committee. The chair has stated that she will do her darndest to convince the Rules Committee (comprising Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, Majority Leader Philip Baruth, Senator Richard Mazza, and Senator Peg Flory) to allow an exception to the rule and allow the bill to proceed to a Senate vote and then on the House. She stated that she was going to print out every single email you had sent last week asking for an extension to bolster her case. We’ll have to see what the Rules Committee decides. If unsuccessful, reform for this law is dead unless some changes can be affixed to a relevant bill. Then the Senate Government Operations Committee considered the proposals for amendment. It agreed to limit the requirement that meetings involving members by telephone take all votes by roll call to instead only those votes that were not unanimous. It approved removing an old notice requirement that was made unnecessary by the requirement added last year that agendas be made available prior to meetings. Perhaps the most sought after change was the proposal to extend from five days to ten days the requirement to post minutes to a website, if the town maintains one. The committee amended this provision to be eight days and only allowed that to be in effect until June 30, 2016. At that point, the law would revert to the five-day requirement. The committee did retain the provision that clarified that minutes should remain on the website for a year before removal, if posted thereto. VLCT had proposed that the penalties, fines, and legal fees for violations of the Open Meeting Law be limited to the selectboards, school boards, and city councils, and not make volunteers serving on a recreation or similar committee subject to them as is currently the case. The committee struck those VLCT-supported proposals. Though disappointing, we have to try to get whatever is left of the bill out of the Senate so that we might be able to improve it in the House and get some corrections approved this year. Please contact your senators and the members of the Senate Rules Committee (see links above). Ask them to allow S.114 to be considered by the full Senate and passed to the House. Contact Steve Jeffrey at 1-800-649-7915 or sjeffrey@vlct.org.

Publication Date: 
Friday, March 20, 2015