COLUMBUS – State Representatives Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield) and Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) today announced they introduced legislation that would temporarily allow public bodies, including local governments, to conduct their required meetings virtually.
“I have watched our local governments fight tooth and nail for the last year to host their required meetings and master the virtual meeting learning curve,” said Koehler. “This immediate and temporary relief is needed to allow these important organizations to continue to provide for our communities.”
“County Boards of Commissioners must have at least two voting members present to pass a resolution,” explained Clark County Commissioner and Board President Melanie Flax Wilt. “Virtual technology allows us to conduct real-time public meetings that keep county government running despite health concerns. Nothing can take the place of face-to-face meetings, but this option allows commissioners and the public to engage without unnecessary health risks.”
The Ohio Open Meetings Act, meant to encourage transparency in government, requires public entities to conduct all public business in open meetings that the public may attend and observe. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Ohio General Assembly temporarily waived the in-person meeting requirement, allowing for remote gatherings. This exception to the Open Meetings Act expired July 1, 2021. Koehler and Kelly’s bill seeks to renew this exception until July 1, 2022.
“Local governments need the option to meet virtually, so that they can meet in a way that is both safe and accessible,” said Kelly. “This bill will help provide much needed relief to local public officials throughout our state and better enable them to safely continue to do the work of serving our communities while ensuring the public access to their own government.”
“Allowing business to be conducted virtually increases participation in government. For example, it creates the opportunity for parents with children at home, and for caregivers of family members to be effective in their leadership positions by participating remotely. In addition, the virtual platform decreases absenteeism by allowing those who are not feeling up to par to stay home without missing a meeting. To disallow virtual participation would be archaic, and flies in the face of progress,” said Cincinnati Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney.
If enacted, public bodies would still be required to establish a quorum for voting purpose and give 24 hours’ prior notice of all public meetings. Likewise, public meetings would still be required to host witnesses and receive evidence in accordance with other Open Meetings Act requirements.
“As new variants emerge, we have to keep moving forward. Virtual meetings allow key staff members to attend meetings when sickness or quarantine keeps them home,” said Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes.
The bill now awaits a committee referral.