Focus on New Laws: Change to Open Meeting Law

July 24, 2023

Members of public bodies dealing with medical issues have been given more flexibility to participate in meetings remotely from nonpublic locations.

Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law requires most public bodies, including city councils, public utilities commissions, and pension plan committees to hold their meetings in a format and location accessible to the general public.

The application of this law in Minnesota has been quite broad, with very few meetings — generally only those concerning confidential public safety or personnel matters — receiving exemptions from the law’s requirements. The Open Meeting Law does allow meetings to be conducted by interactive technology if certain conditions are met, including a requirement that each location at which a member of the body is present is open and accessible to the public.

Medical exception no longer tied to declared state of emergency

Going into the 2023 legislative session, the Open Meeting Law contained two exceptions to the requirement that members participating through interactive technology must be in a public location.

  1. Members could participate remotely from a location that is not open or accessible to the public up to three times in a calendar year if the member is serving in the military and is deployed or on active duty.
  2. If the member had been advised by a health care professional against being in a public place for personal or family medical reasons.

However, the medical exception applied only while a declared state of emergency was in effect and 60 days after the removal of the state of emergency. Without a declared state of emergency in place, members of a public body were effectively unable to attend meetings in situations where a medical issue prevented them from being in a public space. This led to situations where some cities struggled to achieve a quorum when council members were dealing with serious health issues.

In Chapter 62, the omnibus state government finance bill, the Open Meeting Law was amended to remove the restriction that the medical exception could only be used during a declared state of emergency. The exception is still limited to three times per year, and members seeking to use the exception must be doing so at the advice of a health care professional.

In striking the state of emergency requirement, the Legislature recognized that members of public bodies periodically need to navigate serious health issues as they carry out their official responsibilities.

Considerations for cities

This amendment to the Open Meeting Law went into effect on July 1, 2023. Cities should be in communication with staff and members of public bodies to inform them of this change to the medical exception.

Members utilizing the medical exception to attend a meeting are considered present at the meeting for purposes of forming a quorum and recording votes. Existing requirements for meetings conducted using interactive technology still apply, including the requirement that meeting minutes reflect the name of any members appearing via interactive technology and state the reason for the appearance by interactive technology.

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