West Virginia Legislature Advances Bill Protecting Public Access to Meetings

March 20, 2023Legal Alerts

West Virginia Legislature Advances Bill Protecting Public Access to Meetings

In a busy Legislative Session, one bill passed that may go unnoticed, but will be of help to Boards of Education. Through House Bill 3146, the Legislature adopted the Uniform Public Meetings During Emergencies Act (“the Act”).

The Act was proposed by the Uniform Law Commission (“ULC”), which provides states with non-partisan legislation that attempts to bring clarity and stability to state statutory law. West Virginia became just the second state to adopt the Act, joining Nevada in passing legislation to address challenges Boards of Education faced during the pandemic.

In essence, the Act codifies the way Boards engaged when the pandemic spread and virtual Board meetings became the norm, though the Act is not limited solely to a pandemic. First, it states that if an emergency is declared in a particular jurisdiction and it prohibits a live meeting, or if the Board president determines that meeting physically would not be practical or prudent, the Board may meet virtually. As a result, if the Board complies with the Act, any action taken during a virtual meeting has the same force and effect as any act taken during a meeting that complies with the Open Governmental Proceedings Act.

A virtual meeting pursuant to the Act, to the extent possible, must accommodate assistive technology used by individuals with disabilities. It requires that attending members must be able to see and hear each other, or if video is not available, to hear each other. Those members attending using those means count towards a quorum. Meeting minutes should reflect whether members attended virtually or in person and if any assistance was needed.

The Act requires that the Board use technology that would permit members of the public to observe the meeting. And, if the local policy would permit delegations, for example, the Act requires that the virtual meeting also accommodate the same. If a public hearing is to be held at the meeting, the members of the public who would otherwise be permitted to attend and present evidence, must be permitted to attend in the same way that Board members do.

Notice of a virtual meeting must specify how the public may attend, how the public may participate (if necessary), how the public may alert the Board of a technical problem, and how a person with a disability may request an accommodation. The Board may also adopt other procedural rules governing virtual meetings.

The Act will provide an alternative to live public meetings that will be useful in the event of another pandemic. But, Boards should also be considering whether virtual meetings may be used in situations of heavy snowfall, flooding, or the like, that can sometimes effect West Virginia counties.

The Dinsmore Education Law practice group will be providing presentations on this topic, as well as other recent legislation passed during the 2023 regular session. Should you have questions or would like to attend a presentation, please contact a member of Dinsmore & Shohl's Education practice group.