Senate pro tem files bill extending Open Meeting law pandemic exemptions
Mike Seals - January 24, 2021 10:47 pm
Treat files separate bill to modernize the law
OKLAHOMA CITY – Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat filed legislation Thursday to extend exemptions to the state’s Open Meeting Act that allowed public bodies to meet virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.
Treat said Senate Bill 1031 reinstates the same exemptions to the Open Meeting Act that were signed into law in 2020 but expired in November. He indicated his preference for the Legislature to fast-track the bill early in the legislative session.
“At the time, in-person gatherings were limited to very few people but we knew public bodies had to meet to conduct business. That’s why the Legislature worked together to implement temporary exemptions to the Open Meeting laws to allow public bodies to meet virtually. The need remains for public bodies to continue to be able to meet virtually and Senate Bill 1031 reinstates the flexibility for public bodies to hold virtual public meetings until the pandemic is behind us,” Treat said.
As written, the exemptions to the Open Meeting Act in SB 1031 would remain in place until the governor’s emergency declaration expires, Treat said. He said the same procedures public bodies followed in 2020 related to these exemptions would be in place again under SB 1031.
Additionally, Treat filed Senate Bill 1032 which contains language to update the Open Meeting Act. Treat said he plans to work with stakeholders like the Oklahoma Municipal League and the Oklahoma Press Association on SB 1032 and that the bill would go through the typical legislative process.
“The temporary exemptions the Legislature passed last year gave public bodies flexibility to meet virtually and conduct business. Equally important, it increased transparency of those bodies by providing increased access to many more Oklahomans. More parents were able to virtually attend their local school board meetings. More taxpayers were able to follow the work of their local city and county governments. And it was all because meetings moved online due to the pandemic. So much of our life now is conducted online, and in the short-term will remain so due to the pandemic, it makes sense to carry forward the measures that brought increased access and transparency to government at all levels,” Treat said.
SB 1032 requires all public meetings at a physical location include a virtual livestream for citizens to be able to view meetings virtually, unless the governmental entity faces technical or logistical difficulties. The bill also automatically allows for completely virtual public meetings immediately upon a declaration of emergency by the governor, in all counties covered by each emergency declaration.