107th Nebraska Legislature, Second Session – Open Meetings Act Legislative Update
The Nebraska Legislature is poised to pass three bills this session that would amend the Nebraska Open Meetings Act (the “Act”). The Act requires every meeting of a public body to be open to the public so citizens may exercise their democratic privilege of attending and speaking at public meetings. At this time, it appears bills regarding electronic minutes and virtual conferencing will pass. It appears a more controversial bill adding requirements for closed sessions will not pass.
The first bill, LB 742, amends the Act by allowing all public bodies to keep minutes as electronic records. Currently, the Act only allows the board of a school district or educational service unit to keep their minutes electronically. All other public bodies have to maintain written minutes. If passed, this bill will extend the option to keep minutes electronically to all public bodies.
The second bill, LB 743, amends the Act by extending closed session requirements to subcommittee meetings of any public body. The bill would also limit reasons a public body or subcommittee could hold a closed session to those reasons expressly stated in the statute.
Currently, a public body may hold a closed session by a majority vote of its voting members if a closed session is clearly necessary for the protection of the public interest or for the prevention of needless injury to the reputation of an individual who did not call the public meeting. The statute allows a public body to hold closed sessions for reasons such as, but not limited to:
- Strategy sessions with respect to collective bargaining, real estate purchases, pending litigation, or litigation which is imminent as evidenced by communication of a claim or threat of litigation to or by the public body;
- Discussion regarding deployment of security personnel or devices;
- Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of criminal misconduct;
- Evaluation of the job performance of a person when necessary to prevent needless injury to the reputation of a person if such person has not requested a public meeting;
- For Community Trust discussions regarding amounts paid to individuals who have suffered from a tragedy of violence or natural disasters; or
- For public hospitals, governing board peer review activities, professional review activities, review and discussion of medical staff investigations or disciplinary actions, and any strategy session concerning transactional negotiations with any referral source that federal law requires conducted at arm’s length.
The definition of a public body does not include subcommittees unless a quorum of the public body attends a subcommittee meeting or the subcommittee is holding hearings, making policy or taking formal action on behalf of their parent body. Thus, the restrictions on closed sessions do not apply to subcommittees. Subcommittees are free to hold closed sessions at any time.
If passed, this bill will require subcommittees to comply with the closed session requirements the Act places on public bodies. It will also limit the reasons a public body or subcommittee of a public body can hold a closed session to those stated above.
The third bill, LB 908, amends the Act by expanding the use of virtual conferencing. Currently, the ability to utilize virtual conferencing is limited to those public bodies identified in the Act provided they meet the requirements set forth in in the Act.
If LB 908 passes, any public body will be able to hold a virtual meeting if the purpose of the meeting is to discuss items scheduled for further discussion or action at a subsequent, in-person meeting, it takes no action during the virtual meeting, and it satisfies existing requirements for public notice and public accommodation.
The Legislature placed LB 742 and LB 908 on Select File. We anticipate these bills will pass.
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on LB 743 but has not advanced it out of Committee. Committee hearings have ended and the Legislature has commenced full-day floor debate. It is unlikely the Committee will advance LB 743 because it does not have priority designation. If LB 743 remains in Committee at the end of this session, it will not carry over, as this is the end of the biennium.
All bills are on the Legislature’s website at http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/. Please contact us if you have any questions about these bills or any other bills the Nebraska Legislature is currently considering. Thank you.