Legislation to allow government advisory panels to expand the use of electronic meetings for official business is on its way to the General Assembly.
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council has recommended a revision to Virginia’s open-government laws that could potentially allow greater participation statewide and enhance efficiency. The distant meetings could only be held in plain view of the public, who would also be invited to attend.
While remote members of government bodies often take part by phone, the panel can’t act without a physical quorum in one place. The proposal allows STATE subcommittee or advisory panel members who are distant to help make a quorum and vote. Supporters say the panels would be more efficient, benefit from talented people who can’t travel, and provide local public events. But Craig Merritt said the Virginia Press Association prefers only a pilot program.
“Is the quality of interaction between the public and a public body the same—if there is no quorum or core group that is physically assembled for the public to see how people interact with each other, what their body language is, what their response is?”
Council Chair and Senator Richard Stuart countered that the change would not apply to full committees.
“A lot of these meetings will give you the ability to get up and speak and interact with the entire committee. We’re just talking about subcommittees that, in essence, would make a recommendation for us to then have a full debate on the issue.”
To allay VPA concerns, the bill would require audio-visual communication and expire in a year unless renewed.
-by Anne Marie Morgan