House Passes Open Meetings Expansion, Preventing Officials From Turning Away Public

House Passes Open Meetings Expansion, Preventing Officials From Turning Away Public

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the Arizona House approved a bill to expand open meeting law to require enough seating for anticipated attendance and that the agenda include the time when the public may have physical access to the meeting place. The vote panned out evenly along party lines: 31-28, with all Democrats opposed and all Republicans in favor of expanding open meetings. 

The legislation, introduced by State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), included a civil penalty for leaders of the public body violating the seating and access time requirements.

When addressing the House Government and Elections Committee, Kavanagh said that governing bodies should anticipate controversial issues that would cause sudden spikes in public attendance. Kavanagh cited the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) incident last year, in which the governing board closed the doors half an hour early to their meeting after enduring overwhelming public attendance the previous week. The legislator explained that he was turned away from attending the meeting because the room was full.

“This is simply meant to prevent a town council, or a school board, or anyone who has a controversial topic from suppressing public input by keeping the meeting in a tiny room so people can’t get in. And that happens,” said Kavanagh. 

State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) noted that he’d experienced something similar to Kavanagh’s SUSD experience. Hoffman recounted how Higley Unified School District (HUSD) officials refused to allow public attendance beyond 20 percent room capacity, turning away individuals attempting to participate. 

Committee Democrats expressed concern that governing bodies wouldn’t be able to anticipate public attendance adequately. Kavanagh said that it would be up to citizens to file open meetings complaints if they suspected government officials weren’t adhering to reasonable accommodations as directed in this bill. He noted that the League of Arizona Cities and Towns wasn’t in opposition to this bill.

Minority Leader Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen) explained in his “no” vote that the bill’s intent was “noble,” but failed to spell out how government officials should anticipate public attendance to accommodate seating. State Representative Sarah Liguori (D-Phoenix) argued that limiting public access to open meetings was a matter of safety, citing the presence of COVID-19 and violence at school board meetings.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Election Bills Before House Committee Address Early Ballots, Write-In Candidates, And More

Election Bills Before House Committee Address Early Ballots, Write-In Candidates, And More

The House Committee on Government & Elections will consider a number of bills Wednesday morning aimed at improving election integrity and voter confidence.

On the agenda are several bills introduced by Rep. John Kavanagh, the committee chairman. One is HB2361 which would allow the tallying of early ballots as soon as the ballot envelope and affidavit is processed.

Currently county election officials cannot start to tally early ballots until 14 days before election day. This posed several challenges during the 2020 General Election due to the vast majority of voters who utilized early ballots in place of in-person voting.

Another bill, HB2181, increases the time period that a write-in candidate must file nomination papers from 40 days before an election to 76 days before, bringing it in line with other write-in related deadlines. And the bill would require a write-in candidate to be a qualified elector as well as a resident of the city, county, district, or town they want to represent for 120 days before the election.

The house committee will also consider HB2363, which would allow cities and towns to train employees to work on elections with the approval of the Arizona Secretary of State (SOS). Currently such training and certification of election officers must be conducted by the SOS, which must be reimbursed by the municipality for the cost of the training.

HB2307 would require an election official to provide an explanation to any in-person voter whose ballot triggers an overvote warning when inserted into an electronic ballot box. Similar to SB1025 introduced by Sen. Kelly Townsend, it would ensure voters understand that overriding the warning means none of the votes cast in an overvoted section of the ballot will be counted.

The committee is also expected to consider whether to replace Rep. Gail Griffin’s hand count bill HB2039 with the language of Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s SB1010. Mesnard’s bill would require counties to conduct hand counts based on precincts, even if a voting center system is in place.

SB1010 also increases the number of post-election hand counts a county must conduct of in-person ballots from two percent of all precincts to five percent or the number of precincts required to achieve a statistical significance consisting of a 99 percent confidence level with a margin of error of 1 percent, whichever is greater.

The bill also addresses who can request a hand recount in a contest that is not subject to an automatic recount.