One bill on deck this legislative session is amending the Open Meetings At. The Open Meetings Act (OMA) ensures that public body meetings are open and held publicly. This allows for a more transparent government for the people, as deliberations within the public body can be observed by the general public.
Public Act (P.A.) 101-0640 gives authority to public officials to conduct remote meetings without issuing a disaster declaration from the Governor or the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). However, there are still conditions that must be met for the body to go remote. One of the conditions is that there still needs to be a disaster declaration that includes part of the jurisdiction of the public body, either issued by the Governor or IDPH. The other condition is that the head of the public body must decide that an in-person meeting is not practical due to a disaster.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many changes in how state governments operated. In 2020, this resulted in 36 states enacting legislation in order to authorize remote or virtual meetings relating to legislative duties for 2020. Two states, Oregon and Wisconsin, did not have to authorize provisions to allow remote or virtual meetings of their respective legislatures because they already had authorized going remote if an emergency existed. However, many of these changes were temporary and were tied to the ongoing pandemic.
In 2021, 17 states allowed remote participation in both state chambers in terms of floor proceedings, along with a total of 29 states allowing either the House, Senate, or both floors to go remote. Remote committee proceedings were allowed in both chambers in 26 states and 8 other states allowed remote committees in either the House or the Senate.
For Illinois, the shift towards allowing local officials to go remote increases the visibility and transparency of public meetings for the greater good of the people. This also increases public safety as their respective representatives are encouraged to lead by example and physically distance in times of pandemics by going remote. This could also be the first step in transitioning public bodies toward live streaming their respective meetings regularly, even if not going remote, as the tools to do so will be more widely accessible.