Governor Greg Abbott granted the Office of the Attorney General’s request for suspension of certain open-meeting statutes that require government officials and members of the public to be physically present at a specified meeting location. The action was taken in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding meetings that bring people into large group settings. In general, the suspended statutes encompass those that (1) require a quorum or a presiding officer to be physically present at the specified location of the meeting; (2) require physical posting of a notice; (3) require the telephonic or videoconference meeting to be audible to members of the public who are physically present at the specified location of the meeting; and (4) may be interpreted to require face-to-face interaction between members of the public and public officials. A complete list of the suspended statutes can be viewed here.
While Governor Abbott has issued Executive Order GA-08 prohibiting social gatherings of ten or more people, certain local governments have instituted similar bans but with broader applicability than merely social gatherings (see City of Austin Order). This has presented governmental entities with the challenge of conducting government business while maintaining their obligation of transparency to the public. In an effort to strike a balance between these competing concerns, the Governor clarified that the suspension of the statutes is subject to certain conditions, including:
- Members of the public will be entitled to participate and address the governmental body during any telephonic or videoconference meeting;
- To hold a telephonic or videoconference meeting, a governmental body must post a written notice that gives the public a way to participate remotely, such as a toll-free dial-in number, including an electronic copy of any agenda packet that officials will consider at the meeting; and
- A governmental body must provide the public with access to a recording of any telephonic or videoconference meeting.
The suspensions are in effect until terminated by the Office of the Governor, or until the March 13, 2020 disaster proclamation is lifted or expires.
The press release from the Office of the Governor can be viewed here.
The press release from the Office of the Attorney General can be viewed here.
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