TOPEKA – (March 16, 2020) – Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is offering guidance to state and local governments on how to comply with the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) if in-person meetings of any public body are replaced with remote meetings by telephone or other communications equipment amid the developing federal, state and local response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Nothing in state law allows for the suspension of the KOMA or its open government requirements,” Schmidt said. “In fact, in times like these, it’s more important than ever to ensure government remains open and accessible so Kansans are able to observe and understand how responses to an emergency situation are being developed.”
Kansas law requires meetings of public bodies be “open to the public.” Ordinarily, that requirement is satisfied by public bodies, such as city or county governing bodies, gathering in a room where members of the public are allowed to enter and observe during the meeting. However, in response to the “social distancing” directives from federal and state authorities that are designed to slow the spread of the virus, some governing bodies are considering replacing in-person meetings with electronic meetings by telephone or other remote communication method to avoid gathering in person.
President Donald Trump this afternoon announced new guidelines for controlling the spread of the virus that discourages gatherings of 10 or more people nationwide. The new recommendation comes after Gov. Laura Kelly today announced an executive order prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people in Kansas in accordance with recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sunday evening.
Schmidt pointed out that although remote meetings of public bodies by telephone or otherwise are allowed, those meetings still must remain “open to the public” by allowing the public to observe or hear the meeting. Due to the unprecedented and evolving nature of the current situation, Schmidt said his office is currently drafting a temporary regulation to provide more-specific guidance on how public bodies may comply with KOMA while the state of emergency related to the virus outbreak remains in effect.
While Schmidt’s office drafts the temporary regulation, public bodies and agencies governed by KOMA are directed to Attorney General Opinion No. 2005-3 and Attorney General Opinion 2011-23. These opinions, interpreting the KOMA, concluded that a public body or agency subject to KOMA may conduct meetings through electronic means such as teleconference or videoconference as long as the public body complies with all the requirements of the KOMA, the public receives the required notice of meetings, and the public is allowed to listen to the discussion. These Attorney General Opinions remain in effect for guidance.
A copy of these opinions may be found at https://bit.ly/33kKN2X and http://bit.ly/38QziRL.