NY extends virtual option for local government meetings

Posted 3 September 2021 at 8:50 am

Press Release, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office

Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday signed legislation (S.50001/A.40001) extending virtual access to public meetings under New York State’s Open Meetings Law, which allows New Yorkers to virtually participate in local government meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The legislation, which was initially implemented by Executive Order during last year’s State of Emergency, allows state and local government meetings that are normally held in person to be held remotely instead, as long as the public has the ability to view or listen to the meeting and as long as the meeting is recorded and later transcribed. This statutory change will reduce the need for congregation at public meetings while the Delta variant is prevalent, while ensuring public business can continue.

“Let’s be clear—the Covid-19 pandemic is not over, and I’ve heard from government officials across the state who are concerned about the inability of their constituents to access public meetings virtually,” Governor Hochul said. “This commonsense legislation extends a privilege that not only helps New Yorkers participate safely in the political process, but also increases New Yorkers’ access to their government by allowing for more options to view public meetings. This law will continue to bolster the open and transparent style of government that we’re committed to maintaining in the Empire State.”

Meetings can be held either over a video service such as Zoom or by phone. There is no change to the requirement that Public Bodies must provide notice to constituents that a meeting is taking place, and they are required to inform constituents how to access the public meeting virtually.

On March 12, 2020, Executive Order 202.1 suspended the portion of New York State law requiring meetings to take place in person, and authorized public meetings to be held virtually. On June 25, 2021, the State Disaster Emergency ended, removing the provision suspending the law.

New York State Conference of Mayors Executive Director Peter A. Baynes said, “During the pandemic’s first fifteen months, Executive Order 202.1 allowed public bodies to conduct meetings remotely. This experiment proved to be effective and popular from both a public health and governmental administration perspective. By all accounts, public attendance at local government meetings increased while health risks were minimized.  Consequently, giving local governments the authority to once again conduct meetings remotely will allow government business to continue while keeping their constituents healthy and safe. This is especially important in light of the emergence of the Delta variant and the recent increase in Covid cases across the state.  Importantly, the Governor’s program bill makes no changes to the law regarding the right to public participation, which allows for a local governing body to establish its own policy.”