Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a new law that mandates public bodies to post meeting minutes online within 14 days of a meeting.
This legislation (S.4704-a/A.1108-a) originated from the New York Coalition For Open Government, who reached out to Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who introduced the bill in the Assembly, with Sen. Anna Kaplan introducing the bill in the Senate.
The new law is significant because the Open Meetings Law does not currently mandate that meeting minutes be posted online. Under current law meeting minutes are required to be available within 14 days of the meeting at the office of the local government or school board if a person requests a copy.
Effective immediately government bodies with a regularly updated website must post meeting minutes online within 14 days of a meeting.
Previously, he Open Meetings Law did not mandate that meeting minutes be posted online. Rather, this section of the law only required public bodies to make meeting minutes available, upon request, within 14 days of the meeting, or within seven days of an executive session where a formal vote is taken.
In practice, some local governments do not make minutes available to the public until after they are formally adopted at the next meeting, which can delay the availability for several weeks.
In an analysis of 20 local governments conducted by the New York Coalition for Open Government, only 30 percent of local governments posted minutes of the previous meeting before the next meeting occurred.
The bill memo notes that, given COVID-19, individuals are at an “immense disadvantage” because there are no in-person opportunity to attend meetings and traveling to the public body’s office to make a request for the meeting minutes presents unnecessary risk.
Both Vermont and Virginia have passed similar laws that require minutes to be posted online within 5 and 10 days of a public body meeting, respectively.
The law allows an exemption if a government body chooses to post a video or audio recording of the meeting itself.
This exemption was met with some criticism from the President of the New York Coalition For Open Government Paul Wolf, who noted that hearing impaired people may prefer a written version of meeting minutes.
“The New York Coalition For Open Government does not agree with posting recordings in lieu of written minutes,” Wolf said when the bill was signed on November 8. “It is our position that public bodies who record their meetings should post written minutes and a copy of any recording. This should not be a situation of ‘one or the other’ and there is no reason why minutes and recordings cannot both be posted online.”
He also said government watchdog groups like his can keep track of compliance issues by local governments with written transcripts.
“It is also important to have a written record of meeting attendance, motions made and votes taken. It is quicker and easier for an organization like ours to monitor compliance with the Open Meetings Law by reviewing meeting minutes or transcripts than it is by viewing several hours of a meeting recording,” Wolf said.