ACCESS/RI, a coalition of groups working for open government in Rhode Island, sent a letter to Governor Daniel McKee urging him to issue an executive order that would allow public bodies to once again hold online meetings and require public bodies to provide remote access for members of the public. The coalition made the request in light of the current wave of infections caused by the Delta variant of Covid-19.
From March 2020 to July 2021, Governors Raimondo and McKee issued a series of executive orders that waived the requirement that members of public bodies meet in person and required “adequate alternative access” to meetings for members of the public. The latest version of those orders was allowed to expire in July. Since then, some public bodies have had difficulty getting in-person quorums and, more importantly, some members of the public have been reluctant to attend in-person meetings. While some public bodies have continued to provide remote access since the return to in person meetings, many have not. In those instances, members of the public face a choice between their health and their ability to participate in our democracy.
Earlier this year, state legislatures in both Connecticut and Massachusetts codified similar executive orders until the spring of 2022. The Rhode Island General Assembly took up legislation that would have allowed for remote participation for both members of public bodies, and the public, but it would have allowed the practice until July of 2023, a timeframe ACCESS/RI opposed due to its length and in recognition that in-person meetings should be the default. However, the letter emphasized that executive orders temporarily restoring remote meetings are needed to get Rhode Island through the Delta variant.