Extending teleconference meeting law before February requires special session (Capitol Update)

I would not be surprised to see a special session of the Legislature sometime after the election for the purpose of amending the Open Meetings Act. Prior to last session, the act required a quorum of all public bodies to be present in person in public meetings in order to conduct business. Conduct of business by a majority of the members outside public meetings is prohibited.

However, before leaving the Capitol last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature amended the act to permit pubic bodies to conduct meetings by teleconference or videoconference, after proper notices, if each member of the public body is audible or visible to each other and to the public. The meeting must be stopped if the audio is disconnected and reconvened after it is restored. SB 661, amending the act, was passed by both the House and Senate on March 17 and signed by the Governor on March 20.

In March, the number of ill was running high but most people were just beginning to recognize the seriousness of COVID-19. The Governor had declared an emergency, but few would have expected the state to still be in a state of emergency by November. Legislators likely thought they were allowing enough time for the pandemic to run its course when they provided in SB 661 that the teleconference and video conference meetings would be allowed “upon the effective date of this act and until November 15, 2020, or the Governor declaring the state of emergency to be terminated, whichever date first occurs.” Meetings by teleconference or videoconference thus expires on Nov. 15.  

With some exceptions, “public body” means the governing bodies of all municipalities, boards of county commissioners, boards of public and higher education and all boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies, trusteeships, authorities, councils, committees, public trusts or any entity created by a public trust, task forces or study groups in this state supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expending of public funds, or administering public property, and includes all committees or subcommittees of any public body. 

When the Nov. 15 deadline expires, all meetings will revert to in-person meetings. Many boards and commissions will likely have members who are high risk and cannot attend necessary meetings. Also, if a member tests positive or is exposed, it may require they remain home. No doubt many in local and state government will be contacting legislators to extend the date for remote meetings, and the only way to do that before February would be a special session. It will be interesting to see what they do.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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