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Governor Baker Issues Executive Order Allowing Some Remote Public Meetings

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| Legal Update

On March 12, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker issued an Executive Order suspending certain provisions of the Open Meeting Law. The Open Meeting Law generally requires that all meetings of municipal and state government bodies be held with a quorum in person and that the public be permitted to attend in person.

In order to help control the spread of COVID-19 by limiting public gatherings, the Executive Order suspends the requirement that public bodies hold meetings in a public place that is open and accessible to the public if the public body provides an alternative means of public access, such as telephone or videoconferencing. If active public participation in the public meeting is required by law or regulation, then the alternative means of public access must provide for that participation. There is an economic hardship exception for municipal public bodies that cannot provide sufficient alternative public access. In the alternative, they may provide a full and complete transcript, recording, or other comprehensive record online, but only if active participation is not required by law.

The Executive Order also allows public bodies to allow all members to participate remotely in any meeting, suspending the requirement that a quorum and the chair be present in person. The Executive Order requires that the public body ensure that any party entitled or required to appear before it be able to do so through remote means as if they were a member of the public body and participating remotely.

The Executive Order only applies to public meetings; it does not apply to public hearings in which the public body is acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity, such as hearings on special permit applications and variance applications. The Executive Order does not suspend constructive approval provisions.

The Nutter team is committed to providing you with the most up-to-date insights on the COVID-19 outbreak and associated business considerations. We are monitoring the situation closely and will provide further updates as information becomes available. If you have questions about how COVID-19 may affect your public meetings or hearings, please reach out to your Nutter attorney at 617.439.2000.

This update is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. Under the rules of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, this material may be considered as advertising.

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