City councils, county boards and other political subdivisions would have greater flexibility to meet virtually under a bill that advanced from general file March 15.
LB83, as introduced by Norfolk Sen. Michael Flood, would allow mayors, county board chairpersons and village board chairpersons to hold meetings virtually during a declared emergency. The bill defines virtual conferencing as a meeting conducted electronically or by phone.
Under the bill, political subdivisions currently subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act and allowed to conduct one half of their annual meetings by video conferencing and teleconferencing would be allowed to hold virtual meetings. An official participating in such a virtual meeting could do so from any location. Current requirements regarding advanced publicized notice and at least one physical site available for public participation still would apply.
The bill also would allow authorized entities to discuss regular business during a virtual meeting under a governor-declared emergency. Currently, they may use virtual means in that circumstance only to address the existing emergency.
Flood said the change would allow a governing body to conduct necessary regular business virtually during an emergency.
“[Currently] if you’re in Plattsmouth and there’s flooding and you need to buy sandbags, or you need to move assets around to get more sandbags to deal with the flooding, you can do that [during a virtual meeting] but you can’t deal with your payroll or pay claims,” he said.
LB83 also would expand the list of political subdivisions allowed to meet virtually to include natural resources districts and local public health districts.
A Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee amendment, adopted 48-0, would
reaffirm the validity of any actions taken by a public body between March 17, 2020, and April 30, 2021, in reliance on an executive order from the governor that waived open meeting requirements during the pandemic.
The committee amendment also would:
• add regional metropolitan transit authorities and metropolitan utilities districts to the list of qualifying political subdivisions;
• require that at least one member of the political subdivision holding the meeting be present at each remote location; and
• require a declaration by the governor to trigger the bill’s emergency provisions.
Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen said LB83 would help individuals who may not be able to participate in an in-person meeting, although he would prefer that most official meetings be held in person.
“Personal meetings still need to be held quite often because there’s nothing like having a room full of people … when you’re making tough decisions,” he said.
Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon also supported the bill, saying the intent was not to “take public meetings and throw them into the dustbins of history” but rather to allow public entities to continue to do business in emergency situations.
Senators advanced LB83 to select file on a 48-0 vote.