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Lawmakers push bill to allow virtual public meetings in Ohio

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(The Center Square) – After the COVID-19 pandemic moved nearly all public government meetings online, Ohio lawmakers believe allowing public bodies to meet virtually will increase public participation.

Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, said he was skeptical of allowing boards to do public business virtually, but that changed following the pandemic.

“I felt the technology was not good enough or even available to allow the public and even the members of the organization who wanted to hold a meeting the ability to have a meeting where frank discussions could take place and interaction between the public and the board members of the organization could occur,” Hoops said.

He said he heard from more than 300 members of public boards that public participation increased during virtual sessions.

“What I found through observation, doing my research, and listening to comments from the public and members of those organizations, which by the way total over 300-plus, by utilizing virtual meetings, public participation was much higher and so was the attendance of the members of those boards,” he said.

The legislation, which passed the House and awaits a committee assignment in the Senate, would establish guidelines for virtual meetings, such as:

• The public body must adopt a policy before holding virtual meetings.

• No public body may hold virtual hearings if discussions of approving a budget, dues, fees, or assessment adjustments occur during the meeting or if there is a vote to support a tax issue.

• All votes in the meeting or hearing must be done by roll call vote.

• A member must notify the chairman 48 hours before the meeting if the member will attend virtually.

“This legislation helps our volunteer boards across Ohio to be more engaged and accessible to the public,” said Rep. Thad Claggett, R-Licking County.

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