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Under the bill, the medical exception would no longer be tied to a state of emergency and would apply to more medical situations.
A bill that would allow greater flexibility for the medical exception to the Open Meeting Law, HF 4441 (Sen. Sandra Masin, DFL-Eagan), was passed out of the House Local Government Division on March 23. It will be heard by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee on April 1.
Remote participation would be allowed in more medical situations
Under current law, the medical exception to the Open Meeting Law can only used if a state of emergency has been declared. The bill would remove the requirement of an emergency declaration. However, it would continue to require that a health care professional has advised the person not be in a public place for personal or family medical reasons.
Support for bill
Dakota County Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord testified on behalf of the Minnesota Inter-County Association. She highlighted that this proposed change is limited, but a significant one.
Both before the COVID-19 pandemic and currently, there is a need for this change. For example, when a member is undergoing chemotherapy, they are able to attend meetings but can’t be in the public for personal health reasons. Also in the last few years, public bodies have used technology more, which has allowed for greater public participation and accountability.
The League, along with the Minnesota School Boards Association, Minnesota Township Association, and Association of Minnesota Counties provided written testimony.
Written testimony was also provided by two members of the St. Paul Transportation Committee, who asked for even greater flexibility for remote participation under the Open Meeting Law.
Family medical reason questions
Legislators questioned the need to allow an exception for family medical reasons. As with personal medical reasons, there may be times when members are caring for loved ones who are immune-compromised and they themselves shouldn’t be in public in order to continue caring for them.
Background of current state of the law
Currently, the Open Meeting Law has limited exceptions to allow a member of a public body (elected official or board/commission member) to participate remotely.
When an emergency is not declared and a member does not want to not make their remote location open to the public, they can only do so in two situations and, even for those situations, the exception can be used only three times in a year. The two situations are:
- For military members who are at a required drill, deployed, or on active duty.
- When the person has been advised by a health care professional that they can’t be in a public place for personal or family medical reasons.