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Good government advocates say more transparency needed in open meetings law

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  • Staff Report 

Transparency advocates are praising a proposed amendment to the state’s open meetings law, revealed in a recent Coalition For Open Government report. The change, put forward by Governor Kathy Hochul in her executive budget proposal, aims to improve access and participation for people with disabilities and commissions focused on disability issues. The proposed law would permit remote meetings, making it easier for individuals with disabilities to serve and engage in public matters.

The Senate’s one-house proposal outlines which public entities can host fully virtual open meetings and allows remote participants with disabilities to count toward a quorum. Rachael Fauss, Senior Policy Advisor at Reinvent Albany, explained that the amendment could lead to more diverse and representative public bodies.

Several disability advocacy organizations have shown support for the plan. However, the Assembly excluded the change in its budget released last month. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s spokesperson, Michael Whyland, stated that the conference opposes legislating significant policies in the state budget, which was due on April 1. The ongoing debate on policy changes has contributed to a three-week delay in finalizing the 2023-24 budget.

The Coalition For Open Government’s report highlights a crisis in open governance in New York, with the majority of local governments violating or disregarding parts of the state’s open meetings law. The report found that 72% of towns did not post meeting documents online, 25% failed to post required meeting minutes or recordings, and 39% of counties did not acknowledge Freedom of Information Law requests within the mandated five business days. Furthermore, 28% of counties never acknowledged receiving the requests, and 65% of county boards of election did not respond to inquiries. On average, obtaining meeting minutes took 49 days.