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Politics & Government

Oregonians get remote access to public meetings, permanently

Image of Oregon state zoom meeting.
April Ehrlich
/
Video image courtesy of the Oregon Legislature
A Senate committee meets on April 27, 2021, to discuss House Bill 2560. The new law requires governing bodies to provide a way for people to access most public meetings remotely.

What was once a solution during the pandemic — allowing people to participate in public meetings remotely to accommodate COVID-19 health guidelines — is now state law.

House Bill 2560, passed by the Oregon Legislature in the 2021 session, took effect on
Jan. 1. It requires governing bodies to make most public meetings remotely accessible when it’s “reasonably possible.”

At the start of the pandemic, governing agencies across Oregon — from small city commissions to statewide legislative committees — transitioned to hosting public meetings remotely, or at least providing a way for people to view and participate in meetings from home.

That could change as soon as social distancing requirements lift, according to one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland. During a Senate committee meeting in April, Hayward said some governing bodies in Oregon were planning to go back to holding in-person meetings at which people can only testify in person.

“We have people who travel from Enterprise to Salem — a six-hour drive — to
testify for 15 minutes,” Hayward said. “That’s not OK. We need to make it so that they don’t have to do that if they want to get their voices heard.”

Oregon is among the largest states in the country in square mileage, ranking ninth between Colorado and Wyoming. That makes for some long drives for people wanting to testify in Salem on statewide rules and legislation. Some have even organized community-wide bus trips to share perspectives from Oregon’s farthest corners.

Even local meetings in Oregon’s large counties can be too distant for some people to attend. Driving from Reedsport to Douglas County’s commission meetings in Roseburg, for instance, takes well over an hour.

The new law applies to most public meetings held by governing bodies, except for executive sessions. Members of the media already have access to most executive sessions, but HB 2560 doesn’t specify if governing bodies must also provide remote access to the media for these meetings.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting