Oklahoma allows public body members to attend meetings virtually, but with several caveats.
The location, address and phone number of the videoconference site must be posted in the meeting notice and agenda. Any member of the public should be permitted inside the meeting space.
“For a lot of us, we don’t want people inside our meeting room while we’re trying to attend a meeting with COVID,” Daniel McClure, general counsel for the Oklahoma Municipal League, told a legislative panel last week.
Attorneys and policy researchers pitched lawmakers on a variety of changes to the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act during a Thursday interim study, including:
- Loosening requirement for public body members to appear virtually in the district they represent;
- Allowing virtual attendance to count towards making a quorum;
- Allowing virtual attendees to participate in executive sessions;
- Permitting virtual meeting attendees to participate in public comment
Several of the act’s provisions were relaxed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing entirely virtual meetings with remote public comment. These rules expired on Feb. 15.
Jeri Holmes, an attorney with Nonprofit Solutions, told lawmakers that eased virtual requirements would be particularly beneficial for rural Oklahomans, who often must drive hours round trip to attend a meeting in person.
“When we get someone from northeast Oklahoma, southeast Oklahoma, way out in the panhandle, they’re not able to come to the board meetings,” Holmes said. “We’re losing that type of participation. I call it the loss of brain power.”
Lawmakers discussed placing a percentage cap on the number of meetings a public body member may attend virtually in a calendar year. For example, a 75% requirement would require members to attend 9 of 12 meetings in person in a calendar year.
“I think a lot of good things happen when we meet in person, you can look at a person’s body language and have a heart-to-heart,” said Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton. “But we also have to recognize in today’s day and age, things happen and sometimes you have to use the virtual option.”
Interim studies, which run from August through November, typically don’t generate formal reports or recommendations but can help guide future legislation. The 2023 legislative session convenes on Feb. 6.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you tuned into more virtual meetings over the past two and a half years? Could more be done to expand access and encourage participation? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.
The Democracy Watch Newsletter is sponsored by:
What I’m Reading This Week
- Bruno Tops Ballot for Oklahoma Libertarians, Who See a Chance for Growth: While polls show her significantly behind the incumbent and his top challenger, (Natalie) Bruno appears poised to capture a solid chunk of voters that Libertarians hope signifies a growing base of support across the state. The party needs to get at least 2.5% of the vote to retain ballot access for the next election cycle. [The Oklahoman]
- Legislative Panel Earmarks Nearly $1 Billion in ARPA Funds for Projects: A legislative oversight committee on Tuesday approved earmarking more than $1 billion, or the bulk of the state’s remaining share of the American Rescue Plan Act funding, to projects ranging from expanding rural broadband to improving healthcare access. [CNHI]
- Recreational Cannabis Question Won’t Be on the Ballot in Oklahoma this November: The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that although delays were beyond the organizers’ control, missed deadlines legally bar the question from the general election ballot. State Question 820 will appear in 2024 unless the governor calls a special election sooner. [KGOU]
- Poll: Big Majority of Oklahoma Republican Voters Think 2020 Election Was Stolen: According to an Amber Integrated poll conducted in August, 63% of likely Republican voters in Oklahoma believe the 2020 election was stolen. Older voters and those without a college degree were more likely to agree. [The Oklahoman]
Support our newsroom
Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.