Bill to delay impact of online notice law moves through the General Assembly
I’ve written several times this week about Connecticut’s new law that requires municipalities post meeting notices and minutes on their websites. But if you don’t like the new law, you should remember that Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law is like New England weather. If you don’t like it, wait a minute.
There are currently four bills before the General Assembly that would revise Section 1-225 of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act to limit the impact of the changes that occurred when Public Act 08-03 went into effect last October. Three of the bills, SB-68, SB-87, and HB-5731 have been sent to the Committee on Government Administration and Elections and probably won’t be acted upon. The fourth bill, SB-772, was approved by the Committee in a 13-2 vote on March 6th. The bill has since been sent to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis to be reviewed before it will eventually be considered by the full legislature. Here’s what the GAE Committee’s Joint Favorable Report has to say about the bill:
Some municipalities have found the current seven day posting requirement for public agency meeting minutes (found in PA 08-3) to be onerous if not impossible to fulfill with available personnel and funds. Their subsequent fear of legal action in light of possible noncompliance has led to the shutting down of several municipal websites; municipalities have sacrificed a useful tool in order to avoid the costs associated with potential legal proceedings.
The substitute language (LCO No. 4561) changes the seven day requirement to fourteen days; changes the October 1, 2009 exemption end date to December 31, 2009 if such public agency files a notice with the applicable town clerk indicating the reason preventing compliance; and provides for further exemption (beginning January 1, 2010 and ending January 1, 2011) if such public agency files a notice with the commission describing the hardship that prevents such public agency from complying with the posting requirement.
But if you are looking for the full language of the bill on the General Assembly’s website, be careful. As of today, the text that you will likely find isn’t the operative language in the bill. You can read the current version of SB-772, the Joint Favorable Substitute bill, on this blog thanks to our very helpful friend’s at the Legislative Commissioners’ Office.
The passage from the Joint Favorable Report that is quoted above provides the important details. If the bill is passed, it will effectively give municipalities until January 2011 to comply with the most burdensome changes and will increase the amount of time cities and towns have to post minutes online from 7 days to 14 days. But the bill does not delay or change the requirements that meeting schedules must be posted online or that special meeting notices must be on municipal websites 24 hours before the meetings are held.
Although the bill’s prospects look strong, municipalities should continue to comply with the new law until it is changed since it is possible that the bill could be defeated or fail to pass because of more pressing legislative business.