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One of the mandates of MOD is to provide technical and legal assistance to Executive Branch agencies and local Commissions on Disability (CODs). So we endeavor to apprise them of significant changes to disability related laws. CODs advise and assist municipal officials and employees in ensuring compliance with state and federal laws and regulations that impact persons with disabilities. Recently, the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, which guides how public meetings must operate, was amended to aid CODs.

As of April 7, 2015, CODs can now decide by majority vote of the commissioners at a regular meeting to allow remote participation during a specific meeting or during all commission meetings. Prior to this amendment, CODs had to seek approval from their respective mayor or city council prior to allowing remote participation. Now that this barrier has been removed, CODs, which are statutorily comprised of mostly persons with disabilities, can more easily complete their business.

empty conference room

CODs can now decide to allow remote participation.

However, any public body using remote participation during a meeting must still ensure that the following minimum requirements are met: 1) A quorum, including the chair or, in the chair’s absence, the person chairing the meeting, must be present; 2) Members of a public body who participate remotely and all persons present at the meeting location must be clearly audible to each other; and 3) All votes taken during a meeting in which a member participates remotely must be by roll call vote.

More recently, another substantive change was made to the Open Meeting Law effective as of July 1, 2015 that adjusts the quorum requirement discussed above for CODs. In short, if a COD has adopted remote participation (see above), a quorum of the Commission does not need to be physically present at the meeting location, although a quorum of members participating, remotely or in person, must still take place and the chair must be physically present at the meeting location. The Attorney General’s

FAQ on the Open Meeting Law further explains this amendment:

“However, a local commission on disability must still provide a physical meeting location where interested members of the public may attend and hear the discussion by the body. Additionally, the commission’s chair, or the person chairing the meeting in the chair’s absence, must be present at the meeting location. This means that if the chair wishes to participate remotely, he or she may do so, but may not then chair the meeting. Finally, note that while the law requires that only one member of a local commission on disability (the chair) be physically present at the meeting location, a quorum of the commission must still participate, remotely or in person, for a “meeting” to occur.”

We are confident that these amendments will facilitate more meetings for local CODs throughout the Commonwealth. Please contact our office should you have any questions regarding these changes to the Open Meeting Law.

DISCLAIMER: Note that the Attorney General is ultimately responsible for interpretation and guidance on this issue. As such, we may refer you to them for guidance depending on the substance of your query.

Written By:

General Counsel

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