MACo Raises Concerns On Widely Expanded Open Meetings Training

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in opposition to HB 823, General Provisions – Open Meetings Act – Enforcement and Training, and HB 1088, Open Meetings Act – Annual Reporting Requirement, Enforcement, and Training, to the House Health and Governmental Operations Committee on February 24, 2016. The bills had similar provisions, authorizing the Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) to issue binding corrective orders and civil fines and expanding who is subject to the training requirements.

From the MACo HB 823 testimony,

HB 823 would authorize the OMCB to issue corrective orders and impose civil penalties (up to $500 per violation). The bill also requires each individual who is an employee, officer, or member of a public body to complete an open meetings training course rather than an individual designated by the public body.

The OMCB should not be granted the ability to issue binding orders or impose civil fees – it lacks a formal administrative and fact-finding process that is inherent to a judicial or quasi-judicial body. The OMCB’s entire structure and current method of operation is built around being an advisory body and the Board would need significant revision in order to provide a fair and equitable system.

MACo also objects to the expanded training requirements as being overbroad – the requirements proposed by HB 823 were debated and specifically rejected when the initial training requirement was passed in 2013 (HB 139). Public bodies range from large, statutorily created permanent bodies to small, all-volunteer task forces.

Designating one employee, staff, officer, or member of the body to receive the training works well and can be accommodated by any type of public body. However, the inclusion of all employees, officers, or members will place a burden on all sizes of public bodies and will be especially challenging for small volunteer bodies that in many cases are already struggling to attract participants.

An identical cross-filed bill to HB 823, SB 598, was heard on February 25 in the Senate. The cross-file of HB 1088 is SB 754 and it is set to be  heard on March 3 in the Senate.