By Daniel Stefanski |
A bill to increase transparency across public bodies in Arizona is making its way through the Legislature, but all Democrats may not be on board with the proposed policies.
HB 2144, sponsored by Representative Tim Dunn, “specifies changes to public meetings and proceedings regulations,” including “requiring all public bodies to provide sufficient seating to accommodate the anticipated attendance of the deliberations and proceedings of a public body.”
The bill also requires: “the agenda of the public meeting to include notice of the time that the public will have physical access to the meeting place,” and “specifying that any head of public body that fails to include notice of the time that the public will have physical access to the meeting place is liable for a civil penalty outlined in statute.”
Representative Michael Carbone co-sponsored this legislation.
An amendment in the House Government Committee “removed the specific liability for the head of a public body,” and “exempted agendas of meetings through technological devices from providing the time the public will have physical access to the meeting place” – for example, Zoom and similar technological meetings.
On January 25, HB 2144 cleared Representative Dunn’s House Government Committee by a 6-3 vote, with one Democrat voting for the bill (Lydia Hernandez). Chairman Dunn indicated that the inspiration behind this piece of legislation stemmed from some government bodies around the state moving their meetings to smaller venues when controversial issues may have been before them. He noted that there could be an intentional motivation to block constituents from attending these meetings in some of these cases – hence the importance of increasing access and transparency for members of the public wishing to attend and participate in these sessions.
Democrat Representative Jennifer Longdon expressed concerns from her cities and other organizations bound by open meeting law about the definitions of some of the terms (“reasonable” and “knowingly”) outlined in the legislation. She voted no on the bill – as did two of her Democrat colleagues. All five Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the bill.
A representative from the Arizona Association of County School Superintendents was signed in to speak against the bill but did not address the committee. Representatives from the County Supervisors Association of Arizona and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns signed in as neutral for the bill.
Later in February, HB 2144 was unanimously approved by the House Rules Committee, with an 8-0 vote. It now awaits its fate with the entire House of Representatives body.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.