Virtual government meetings could be extended in Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana legislators are considering a bill that would let members of state and local government boards participate in meetings virtually even after exemptions allowed by the governor’s coronavirus executive orders come to an end.
The proposal would permit boards to adopt policies allowing members to attend — and vote — virtually as long as they can be seen and heard. It would require meetings with virtual participation also to allow the public to observe the meeting online.
Bill sponsor Sen. Linda Rogers, a Republican from Granger, said the measure would give board members some attendance flexibility, but would prohibit them from joining more than two consecutive meetings virtually except for limited reasons such as illness or military service.
“I look at it as if someone’s elected to be a county council or commissioner that they can’t just go to Florida for four months and participate virtually,” Rogers told the Senate Local Government Committee on Thursday.
State and local government boards have generally been allowed to hold all-virtual meetings since Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an exemption to the state law requiring in-person meetings in March as part of the COVID-19 public health measures that are ongoing.
Luke Britt, the state’s public access counselor, said he supported the bill and that his office had received fewer than 10 complaints about those virtual meetings among the hundreds that it receives a year about possible violations of open government meeting and public records laws.
Committee Chairman Sen. James Buck, a Kokomo Republican, said he planned to have the bill require at least half of all board members be physically present for meetings.
That would address a concern raised by Hoosier State Press Association director Steve Key, who said board members shouldn’t be allowed to dodge the public by not showing up in person on controversial matters.
“As we get back to normal, that should still be a requirement,” Key said.
Indiana Association of Counties Executive Director David Bottorff said he expected most county boards would only allow limited reasons for virtual meeting participation.
“Our members agree you run for office it’s critical that you show up to the public meeting to talk to the voters before and after the meeting,” Bottorff said.
The committee could vote next week on whether to advance the bill to the full Senate.