State Laws Regarding Remote Meetings When There Is No State of Emergency

A number of RWHAP Part A Planning Councils/Planning Bodies (PC/PBs) have had good experiences with some aspects of remote meetings – participation by members who live or work in more distant parts of the jurisdiction, have disabilities, or face extreme traffic congestion has in some cases improved during the COVID-19 emergency. PC/PBs have learned how to conduct such meetings successfully and have arranged connectivity for members to allow remote participation. Once the current emergency situation has ended, some PC/PBs may want to continue to hold some meetings remotely or to allow “hybrid” meetings, where some members are physically present but others participate remotely.

Many state open meeting laws were passed decades ago, before the age of the internet. They are silent on remote meetings or assume that the only options are either telephone conference calls or the use of video conferencing centers. Some states have amended their open meeting laws so they now address electronic meetings; in other states, guidance from the Attorney General or court decisions show how such issues have been litigated – although that information is not always readily available online. Nearly all states suspended open meetings laws during the COVID-19 public health emergency, usually through Executive Orders from the Governor or rulings from the Attorney General. A few states allow fully remote meetings under normal conditions, so no action was required. Some other states have built-in provisions allowing remote meetings when a state is under an official state of emergency due to a public health crisis or other disaster.

This table uses available data to summarize state requirements, limits, and conditions for fully remote meetings and for “hybrid” meetings. It addresses issues such as the following:

  • Whether “all-remote” meetings are permitted. Legislation can simply forbid this, but all remote meetings may be impossible because of a less obvious requirement, such as:
    • Requiring a physical location for every meeting where the public can go to observe and (sometimes) participate – usually with the Chair or at least one member present; or
    • Requiring that members be physically present to count towards quorum and to vote.
  • What proportion of members may connect remotely. Some states require that a majority or a quorum of members be physically present at the normal meeting place.
  • Situations in which a member may participate remotely. Sometimes no reason is required, but in some states, a member may participate electronically only due to health issues (sometimes with documentation from a physician required), military service, or other limited reasons.
  • How often a member may participate remotely. A few states limit the number of times a year a member may connect remotely.
  • Other requirements or limitations that require attention or may make remote meetings challenging. For example, one state requires that every remote location used must be announced and accessible to the public, even if it is a member’s home or office — probably a throwback to when those remote locations were video conferencing centers. Some states require that all votes be by roll call when anyone connects remotely. Some make a distinction between teleconferencing (audio only) and videoconferencing (video and audio). One state allows public bodies to charge members of the public for costs of connecting; another forbids such charges.
  • Differences between state and local bodies. Some states allow state agencies to have remote or hybrid meetings but do not allow local bodies to do so. This appears to be based on an assumption that statewide bodies would have to travel greater distances to be physically present at a meeting.

Two additional issues are not addressed by the table:

  • Local open meeting laws. Some states allow municipalities to establish their own rules about remote and hybrid meetings, but that information was not readily available via internet. For example, California counties often have their own open meeting laws. Local laws can be either more or less limiting than state laws.
  • Differing local interpretation of state laws. In some states, the county clerk or legal counsel has considerable power with regard to interpretation of state open meeting laws, especially for official city or county boards and commissions. Many PC/PBs hold such status. Interpretations of state law may vary considerably in different cities or counties within the same state, even though the state law is the same.

Listed by state, this table summarizes rules for remote meetings under state open meeting or “government in the sunshine” laws that apply when there is no state of emergency. The state summaries here are based on information available online about what open meetings laws – and Attorney General and court interpretations of those laws – say about the allowable use of electronic methods for holding meetings. Local open meeting laws, and differing local interpretation of state laws are not addressed here.

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
24 hours’ notice; notice should indicate plans for remote participation; both video and telephone participation permitted
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Implied — notice should “ensure that the public meeting place where the public body normally meets has facilities that permit the public to observe and hear all telephone, video, or online communications”
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • “If members of a public body are unable to be present in person at a public meeting, they may participate by telephone or video or internet conference if the practice is not prohibited by statutes applicable to meetings of the public body”
  • Members of the public may participate electronically and must be able to hear the discussion; Open Meeting Law does not mandate public participation; local body decides whether to allow public input

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
At least 1 member is required to be physically present at a specified location
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes, and in addition, each remote location must be “accessible to the public” (even if it is a home or hotel room)
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No, but a quorum must participate from physical locations located within the jurisdiction
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Roll-call votes required
  • Time must be provided for public comment
  • Each physical location must be identified in the notice and agenda and must post an agenda and have provision for public comment (like a speaker phone), which means a member cannot connect from a smartphone in a car or a hospital room; an office building that is locked after hours must be made accessible for an evening meeting

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
24 hours’ notice, with electronic access made available to the public
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No – “so long as the means to access the meeting electronically are made available to the public”
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Meeting must be open to the public but no requirement for a public comment period or public input – purpose of the law “is to allow the public to observe, not participate”

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Such meetings are permitted, provided notice and other meeting requirements are met, and the public is able to “hear and identify adequately all participants in the proceedings, including their individual remarks and votes”
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Implied — members of the public must be able to “be present at a place where the greatest number of participating agency members are located” according to an Advisory Opinion of the Freedom of Information Commission (FIC)
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Public has a right to attend public meetings but does not have a right to speak
  • Legislation defines a meeting as including a gathering “whether in person or by means of electronic equipment”
  • Law was passed so long ago that Advisory Legal Opinions provide the most useful information about remote meetings

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
“A meeting may be held by video conference, telephone conference, or other electronic means” if other requirements are met, such as 48 hours’ notice and public right to attend and provide input
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Roll-call votes required
  • Meeting must be recorded
  • “Reasonable arrangements” must be “made to accommodate the public’s right to attend the meeting” and offer input
  • Law defines a meeting as including gatherings “whether in person, by telephone, electronically, or by other means of communication”

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes — reasonable notice is required, and meeting must be held in “an accessible public place where everyone can hear each other”
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — quorum must be present in the physical location
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • State bodies may meet entirely remotely, but not local bodies
  • AGO 03-41 found that “the participation of an absent member by telephone conference or other interactive electronic technology is permissible when such absence is due to extraordinary circumstances such as illness[;] . . .” but left it up to the entity to decide whether “absence of a member due to a scheduling conflict constitutes such a circumstance”

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — quorum must be present in person
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • A member may participate by teleconference for “reasons of health or absence from the jurisdiction,” but a “written opinion from a health care professional” is required for a member to participate by teleconference more than twice in one calendar year

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes — location must be convenient and open to the public
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — a quorum of members must be physically present
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • A member may participate electronically (video or audio) under stated conditions related to health, work, or family/emergency, if permitted by the body’s rules, and must notify the body about this before the meeting unless advance notice is impractical

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? No
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — all members are required to be physically present in order to be counted for quorum and to vote
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? Yes

Other Requirements/ Explanations

  • Generally, a member of the governing body who connects “by telephone, computer, videoconferencing, or other electronic means…may participate,” but not be counted as present or vote

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? No
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — all members must be physically present to be counted for quorum and to vote
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? Yes

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Meetings must be open to the public and an opportunity for public comment is required prior to action by the body
  • 24 hours’ meeting notice is required
  • Law includes provision for remote meetings only during “extraordinary emergencies” as declared by the governor

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Public notice and public right to observe
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • A discussion “conducted entirely by teleconference” meets requirements if there is a quorum and technology enables both members and the public to hear each other — members should identify themselves and speak audibly
  • No physical location is required
  • Public has a right to attend (observe), but not to participate, except where public comment is required by other laws

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — majority of members, including Chair, must be present at the meeting location
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Local jurisdiction can take action to allow remote participation at meetings of all local public bodies and adopt restrictions on remote participation but “the Attorney General strongly encourages members of public bodies to physically attend meetings whenever possible”
  • Where permitted, remote participation should occur “only if physical attendance would be unreasonably difficult”
  • All participants must be “clearly audible” to each other
  • Roll call votes are required when any member is participating remotely

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes, but very limited
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes — one or more members must be physically present in a place “available to the general public”
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Not specified
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Remote connection to meetings very limited unless a municipality takes specific action: municipalities are required by 2018 amendments to establish policies allowing remote participation by electronic means for members on military duty; some allow remote participation under other conditions

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? No
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — all members must be physically present
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? Yes

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • State agencies are permitted to meet remotely if at least one member or senior official is in a physical location and other open meeting requirements are met, but local bodies do not have this option except in a declared emergency

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Notice for a remote meeting must identify how the meeting will be conducted and how the public can connect and observe
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No — but if there is a physical location, it must be specified in the notice as a place where the public may observe and attend
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Meetings may be held via telephone, internet, or other electronic means
  • Meetings must be open to the public, but no requirement for public comment

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Three working days’ public notice; public opportunity to listen; Meeting notice should specify “the location and address of a place where members of the public may appear and listen to the meeting discussion over a telephone speaker device or other electronic media”
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes — to provide a way for the public to attend and participate, whether in person or through a speaker phone or video conference equipment
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Public comment period required
  • Manual says “Nothing in the Open Meeting Law prohibits a quorum of the members of a public body from deliberating toward a decision or taking action on public business via a telephone conference call or video conference in which they simultaneously are linked to one another telephonically”

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
48 hours’ notice
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • A meeting may be held in person or “by means of communication equipment”
  • Public has the right to attend but not to participate

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Public notice must inform the public that video-conferencing will be used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No – but public access is required at every site from which a member connects remotely
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • “A public body that uses videoconferencing to conduct its meetings shall provide an opportunity for the public to attend, listen and observe at any site at which a member participates” – which includes the physical locations of members’ homes or offices from which they connect to the meeting
  • Entities with a website and high-speed internet are expected to livestream their meetings if feasible
  • Minutes of a remote meeting must be recorded and then transcribed
  • Public access is required, but not public comment

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
48 hours’ notice and provision for public participation
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No — requirements of notice and access can be met through electronic means; public notice must “provide a location and means whereby members of the public may listen to the meeting”
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Meeting must provide for “the simultaneous communication by conference telephone or other electronic means of a majority of the members”
  • Public must have access, but body may charge up to $25 to each listener to help pay for providing the location and listening equipment

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
“A member of a public body must be present in person at a meeting in order to be considered present, vote, or be counted as part of a quorum, unless a specific law permits otherwise”
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? No
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — all members must be physically present to be counted for quorum and to vote
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? Yes

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • “In the absence of statutory authority, public bodies may not conduct a meeting via electronic or telephonic conferencing”
  • This is true even in an emergency
  • Meetings must be open to the public

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Public meetings may be conducted electronically as long as the public has 24 hours’ notice and public access is provided through an access code or another means of attending electronically
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
No — public body must “make available at least one place where, or at least one electronic means by which, the public to listen to the communication at the time it occurs”
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No — if a physical location is provided, there is no requirement that any member be present at that location
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Meetings may be held by telephone conference call or “other electronic communication” provided other Open Meetings Law requirements are met
  • Public must be able to attend, but no requirement for public comment
  • Access costs may not be passed on to the public

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Probably*
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Legislation is silent on requirements for a physical location
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Unclear — there is no express statutory authorization for or prohibition against virtual meetings
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No — remote members count towards a quorum, as established by a Supreme Court ruling in 1992
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? Unclear

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • A meeting is covered by the Open Meetings Law “any time a quorum deliberates… or takes official action, no matter the physical location of deliberations”
  • One law firm advises that when a body is planning a virtual meeting, “the method for access to the electronic meeting be advertised” along with the original meeting notice, and that it specify how to connect; so that “members of the general public can log in and view the meeting as it occurs”
  • Members may participate in meetings by telephone or video conference
  • 3 days’ notice; public must be able to attend, participate, and comment
  • Those participating remotely and everyone physically present must be able to speak to and hear each other

Sources:

Puerto Rico has no open meeting law and apparently no Commonwealth-wide requirements or limitations on remote meetings

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? No
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — with a few exceptions, all members must be physically present
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? Yes

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • With a few special exceptions (like local school boards), local public bodies are not permitted to meet by conference call or other electronic means; law permits members of state bodies to connect remotely, with some requirements and limitations

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Physical location required
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes — plus the location must be open to the public during the open portions of the meeting, and each participant’s face must be clearly visible and the voice audible to the public at that location
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Depends on number of counties in jurisdiction:
  • If the public body’s jurisdiction covers not more than 2 counties, a quorum of the body must be physically present at one meeting location
  • If the body covers 3 or more counties, the presiding member must be at one physical location
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Governmental bodies may conduct meetings by videoconference call
  • Telephone meetings can be held only in emergency circumstances or by public bodies with specific statutes that authorize such meetings
  • If a member loses audio or video communication for a period of time, the remote participant is considered absent during that time
  • All locations must have two-way audio and video communication with each other, and the face of the person speaking must be visible and the voice audible to other participants and members of the public who are in the physical location of the presiding member

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? No
  • Requirements/ Limitations
No local governmental body “or any local authority, board, or commission shall conduct a meeting…through telephonic, video, electronic or other communication means where the members are not physically assembled”
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? No
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
Yes — quorum must be physically assembled at the primary or central meeting location
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? Yes

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Local public bodies may allow participation by their members via teleconference or other electronic means only under certain limited circumstances; different rules for state bodies
  • Individual members may participate by electronic means from a remote location not open to the public in cases of temporary or permanent disability, other medical condition, or a “personal matter” that prevents physical attendance
  • Public body must adopt a policy on such participation before such remote participation is permitted
  • Remote member’s voice must be heard by all
  • Chair must be notified and disability or nature of personal matter and remote location recorded in the minutes
  • Remote participation due to a personal matter is limited to two meetings per calendar year
  • Individual members of regional bodies may participate remotely if the member’s principal residence is more than 60 miles from the meeting location
  • Use of electronic means to increase public access is always permissible; limits apply only to members

Sources:

All-Electronic Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Requirements/ Limitations
Electronic equipment must be provided at the designated meeting place
Hybrid Meetings Permitted? Yes
  • Hybrid Physical Location required?
Yes — a speaker phone or video must be provided at the designated meeting place and time, and attending members of the public must be able to hear all discussion, provide testimony, and otherwise be aware of the process
  • Majority or quorum must be present in physical location?
No
Both All-electronic and Hybrid Forbidden? No

Other Requirements/Explanations

  • Law does not specifically address remote meetings, but some Attorney General’s Opinions (AGOs) do
  • AGO No. 4 (2017) states that a governing body “can hold a public meeting by telephone or video conferencing” provided “attending members of the public can hear all discussion, provide testimony, and otherwise be aware of the governing body’s steps in taking its official action”
  • Public has a right to attend meetings, but no requirement for public comment

Sources: