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A Handy List of Texas Open Meetings Act Suspensions, Illustrated

A Handy List of Texas Open Meetings Act Suspensions, Illustrated

On March 16, 2020, the Governor of the State of Texas temporarily suspend a limited number of open meeting laws in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disaster declared by the Governor on March 13, 2020. The suspensions are in effect until terminated by the Office of the Governor, or until the March 13, 2020 disaster declaration is lifted or expires.

I have personally found it somewhat cumbersome to analyze what provisions of the open meetings laws have been suspended and which remain in effect, and I have found myself having to constantly refer back and forth between the text of the statutes as codified and the list of sections and subsections suspended by the Governor. Therefore, I felt it might be useful to reconcile the text of the affected sections of the Open Meetings Act with the list of suspended provisions by reproducing the text here with the suspended provisions indicated by strikethrough. Again, these are not all of the open meetings laws that have been suspended, they are only those located in Chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code. The complete list of the open meeting provisions that have been temporarily suspended can be accessed here.

I will also note that the sections are presented here according to section number, whereas they are listed in the Governor’s order categorically by the following types of regulations imposed:

  • those that require a quorum or a presiding officer to be physically present at the specified location of the meeting; provided, however, that a quorum still must participate in the telephonic or videoconference meeting;
  • those that require physical posting of a notice; provided, however, that the online notice must include a toll-free dial-in number or a free-of-charge videoconference link, along with an electronic copy of any agenda packet;
  • those that require the telephonic or videoconference meeting to be audible to members of the public who are physically present at the specified location of the meeting; provided, however, that the dial-in number or videoconference link provided in the notice must make the meeting audible to members of the public and allow for their two-way communication; and further provided that a recording of the meeting must be made available to the public; and
  • those that may be interpreted to require face-to-face interaction between members of the public and public officials; provided, however, that governmental bodies must offer alternative methods of communicating with their public officials.

Additionally, according to the Governor’s order, the suspended provisions are suspended “to the extent necessary to allow telephonic or videoconference meetings and to avoid congregate settings in physical locations.” Therefore, it could be argued that some of the provisions listed in the order may still be in effect to some degree.

Therefore, without further ado, I present to you the suspended provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act, Chapter 551, Government Code:

Sec. 551.007.  PUBLIC TESTIMONY.  (a)  This section applies only to a governmental body described by Sections 551.001(3)(B)-(L).

(b)  A governmental body shall allow each member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an agenda for an open meeting of the body to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during the body’s consideration of the item.

(c)  A governmental body may adopt reasonable rules regarding the public’s right to address the body under this section, including rules that limit the total amount of time that a member of the public may address the body on a given item.

(d)  This subsection applies only if a governmental body does not use simultaneous translation equipment in a manner that allows the body to hear the translated public testimony simultaneously.  A rule adopted under Subsection (c) that limits the amount of time that a member of the public may address the governmental body must provide that a member of the public who addresses the body through a translator must be given at least twice the amount of time as a member of the public who does not require the assistance of a translator in order to ensure that non-English speakers receive the same opportunity to address the body.

(e)  A governmental body may not prohibit public criticism of the governmental body, including criticism of any act, omission, policy, procedure, program, or service. This subsection does not apply to public criticism that is otherwise prohibited by law.

 

Sec. 551.043.  TIME AND ACCESSIBILITY OF NOTICE; GENERAL RULE.  (a)  The notice of a meeting of a governmental body must be posted in a place readily accessible to the general public at all times for at least 72 hours before the scheduled time of the meeting, except as provided by Sections 551.044-551.046.

(b)  If this chapter specifically requires or allows a governmental body to post notice of a meeting on the Internet:

(1)  the governmental body satisfies the requirement that the notice must be posted in a place readily accessible to the general public at all times by making a good-faith attempt to continuously post the notice on the Internet during the prescribed period;

(2)  the governmental body must still comply with any duty imposed by this chapter to physically post the notice at a particular location; and

(3)  if the governmental body makes a good-faith attempt to continuously post the notice on the Internet during the prescribed period, the notice physically posted at the location prescribed by this chapter must be readily accessible to the general public during normal business hours.

 

 

Sec. 551.049.  COUNTY GOVERNMENTAL BODY:  PLACE OF POSTING NOTICE.  A county governmental body shall post notice of each meeting on a bulletin board at a place convenient to the public in the county courthouse.

 

 

 

Sec. 551.050.  MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENTAL BODY: PLACE OF POSTING NOTICE.  (a)  In this section, “electronic bulletin board” means an electronic communication system that includes a perpetually illuminated screen on which the governmental body can post messages or notices viewable without manipulation by the public.

(b)  A municipal governmental body shall post notice of each meeting on a physical or electronic bulletin board at a place convenient to the public in the city hall.

 

 

Sec. 551.0501.  JOINT BOARD:  PLACE OF POSTING NOTICE.  (a)  In this section, “electronic bulletin board” means an electronic communication system that includes a perpetually illuminated screen on which the governmental body can post messages or notices viewable without manipulation by the public.

(b)  A joint board created under Section 22.074, Transportation Code, shall post notice of each meeting on a physical or electronic bulletin board at a place convenient to the public in the board’s administrative offices.

 

Sec. 551.051.  SCHOOL DISTRICT:  PLACE OF POSTING NOTICE.  A school district shall post notice of each meeting on a bulletin board at a place convenient to the public in the central administrative office of the district.

 

 

Sec. 551.121.  GOVERNING BOARD OF INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION; BOARD FOR LEASE OF UNIVERSITY LANDS; TEXAS HIGHER EDUCATION COORDINATING BOARD:  SPECIAL MEETING FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION.  (a)  In this section, “governing board,” “institution of higher education,” and “university system” have the meanings assigned by Section 61.003, Education Code.

(b)  This chapter does not prohibit the governing board of an institution of higher education, the Board for Lease of University Lands, or the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board from holding an open or closed meeting by telephone conference call.

(c)  A meeting held by telephone conference call authorized by this section may be held only if:

(1)  the meeting is a special called meeting and immediate action is required; and

(2)  the convening at one location of a quorum of the governing board, the Board for Lease of University Lands, or the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, as applicable, is difficult or impossible.

(d)  The telephone conference call meeting is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings.

(e)  The notice of a telephone conference call meeting of a governing board must specify as the location of the meeting the location where meetings of the governing board are usually held.  For a meeting of the governing board of a university system, the notice must specify as the location of the meeting the board’s conference room at the university system office.  For a meeting of the Board for Lease of University Lands, the notice must specify as the location of the meeting a suitable conference or meeting room at The University of Texas System office.  For a meeting of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the notice must specify as the location of the meeting a suitable conference or meeting room at the offices of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board or at an institution of higher education.

(f)  Each part of the telephone conference call meeting that is required to be open to the public must be:

(1)  audible to the public at the location specified in the notice of the meeting as the location of the meeting;

(2)  broadcast over the Internet in the manner prescribed by Section 551.128; and

(3)  recorded and made available to the public in an online archive located on the Internet website of the entity holding the meeting.

 

 

Sec. 551.122.  GOVERNING BOARD OF JUNIOR COLLEGE DISTRICT: QUORUM PRESENT AT ONE LOCATION.  (a)  This chapter does not prohibit the governing board of a junior college district from holding an open or closed meeting by telephone conference call.

(b)  A meeting held by telephone conference call authorized by this section may be held only if a quorum of the governing board is physically present at the location where meetings of the board are usually held.

(c)  The telephone conference call meeting is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings.

(d)  Each part of the telephone conference call meeting that is required to be open to the public shall be audible to the public at the location where the quorum is present and shall be recorded.  The recording shall be made available to the public.

(e)  The location of the meeting shall provide two-way communication during the entire telephone conference call meeting, and the identification of each party to the telephone conference shall be clearly stated before the party speaks.

(f)  The authority provided by this section is in addition to the authority provided by Section 551.121.

(g)  A member of a governing board of a junior college district who participates in a board meeting by telephone conference call but is not physically present at the location of the meeting is considered to be absent from the meeting for purposes of Section 130.0845, Education Code.

 

 

Sec. 551.125.  OTHER GOVERNMENTAL BODY.  (a)  Except as otherwise provided by this subchapter, this chapter does not prohibit a governmental body from holding an open or closed meeting by telephone conference call.

(b)  A meeting held by telephone conference call may be held only if:

(1)  an emergency or public necessity exists within the meaning of Section 551.045 of this chapter;  and

(2)  the convening at one location of a quorum of the governmental body is difficult or impossible;  or

(3)  the meeting is held by an advisory board.

(c)  The telephone conference call meeting is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings.

(d)  The notice of the telephone conference call meeting must specify as the location of the meeting the location where meetings of the governmental body are usually held.

(e)  Each part of the telephone conference call meeting that is required to be open to the public shall be audible to the public at the location specified in the notice of the meeting as the location of the meeting and shall be recorded.  The recording shall be made available to the public.

(f)  The location designated in the notice as the location of the meeting shall provide two-way communication during the entire telephone conference call meeting and the identification of each party to the telephone conference shall be clearly stated prior to speaking.

 

 

 

Sec. 551.126.  HIGHER EDUCATION COORDINATING BOARD.  (a)  In this section, “board” means the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

(b)  The board may hold an open meeting by telephone conference call or video conference call in order to consider a higher education impact statement if the preparation of a higher education impact statement by the board is to be provided under the rules of either the house of representatives or the senate.

(c)  A meeting held by telephone conference call must comply with the procedures described in Section 551.125.

(d)  A meeting held by video conference call is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings.  In addition, a meeting held by video conference call shall:

(1)  be visible and audible to the public at the location specified in the notice of the meeting as the location of the meeting;

(2)  be recorded by audio and video;  and

(3)  have two-way audio and video communications with each participant in the meeting during the entire meeting.

 

 

Sec. 551.127.  VIDEOCONFERENCE CALL.  (a)  Except as otherwise provided by this section, this chapter does not prohibit a governmental body from holding an open or closed meeting by videoconference call.

(a-1)  A member or employee of a governmental body may participate remotely in a meeting of the governmental body by means of a videoconference call if the video and audio feed of the member’s or employee’s participation, as applicable, is broadcast live at the meeting and complies with the provisions of this section.

(a-2)  A member of a governmental body who participates in a meeting as provided by Subsection (a-1) shall be counted as present at the meeting for all purposes.

(a-3)  A member of a governmental body who participates in a meeting by videoconference call shall be considered absent from any portion of the meeting during which audio or video communication with the member is lost or disconnected.  The governmental body may continue the meeting only if a quorum of the body remains present at the meeting location or, if applicable, continues to participate in a meeting conducted under Subsection (c).

(b)  A meeting may be held by videoconference call only if a quorum of the governmental body is physically present at one location of the meeting, except as provided by Subsection (c).

(c)  A meeting of a state governmental body or a governmental body that extends into three or more counties may be held by videoconference call only if the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting is physically present at one location of the meeting that is open to the public during the open portions of the meeting.

(d)  A meeting held by videoconference call is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings in addition to the notice requirements prescribed by this section.

(e)  The notice of a meeting to be held by videoconference call must specify as a location of the meeting the location where a quorum of the governmental body will be physically present and specify the intent to have a quorum present at that location, except that the notice of a meeting to be held by videoconference call under Subsection (c) must specify as a location of the meeting the location where the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting will be physically present and specify the intent to have the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting present at that location.  The location where the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting is physically present shall be open to the public during the open portions of the meeting.

(f)  Each portion of a meeting held by videoconference call that is required to be open to the public shall be visible and audible to the public at the location specified under Subsection (e).  If a problem occurs that causes a meeting to no longer be visible and audible to the public at that location, the meeting must be recessed until the problem is resolved.  If the problem is not resolved in six hours or less, the meeting must be adjourned.

(g)  The governmental body shall make at least an audio recording of the meeting.  The recording shall be made available to the public.

(h)  The location specified under Subsection (e), and each remote location from which a member of the governmental body participates, shall have two-way audio and video communication with each other location during the entire meeting.  The face of each participant in the videoconference call, while that participant is speaking, shall be clearly visible, and the voice audible, to each other participant and, during the open portion of the meeting, to the members of the public in attendance at the physical location described by Subsection (e) and at any other location of the meeting that is open to the public.

(i)  The Department of Information Resources by rule shall specify minimum standards for audio and video signals at a meeting held by videoconference call.  The quality of the audio and video signals perceptible at each location of the meeting must meet or exceed those standards.

(j)  The audio and video signals perceptible by members of the public at each location of the meeting described by Subsection (h) must be of sufficient quality so that members of the public at each location can observe the demeanor and hear the voice of each participant in the open portion of the meeting.

(k)  Without regard to whether a member of the governmental body is participating in a meeting from a remote location by videoconference call, a governmental body may allow a member of the public to testify at a meeting from a remote location by videoconference call.

 

 

Sec. 551.130.  BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF TEACHER RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF TEXAS:  QUORUM PRESENT AT ONE LOCATION.  (a)  In this section, “board” means the board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

(b)  This chapter does not prohibit the board or a board committee from holding an open or closed meeting by telephone conference call.

(c)  The board or a board committee may hold a meeting by telephone conference call only if a quorum of the applicable board or board committee is physically present at one location of the meeting.

(d)  A telephone conference call meeting is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings.  The notice must also specify:

(1)  the location of the meeting where a quorum of the board or board committee, as applicable, will be physically present; and

(2)  the intent to have a quorum present at that location.

(e)  The location where a quorum is physically present must be open to the public during the open portions of a telephone conference call meeting.  The open portions of the meeting must be audible to the public at the location where the quorum is present and be recorded at that location.  The recording shall be made available to the public.

(f)  The location of the meeting shall provide two-way communication during the entire telephone conference call meeting, and the identification of each party to the telephone conference call must be clearly stated before the party speaks.

(g)  The authority provided by this section is in addition to the authority provided by Section 551.125.

(h)  A member of the board who participates in a board or board committee meeting by telephone conference call but is not physically present at the location of the meeting is not considered to be absent from the meeting for any purpose.  The vote of a member of the board who participates in a board or board committee meeting by telephone conference call is counted for the purpose of determining the number of votes cast on a motion or other proposition before the board or board committee.

(i)  A member of the board may participate remotely by telephone conference call instead of by being physically present at the location of a board meeting for not more than one board meeting per calendar year.  A board member who participates remotely in any portion of a board meeting by telephone conference call is considered to have participated in the entire board meeting by telephone conference call.  For purposes of the limit provided by this subsection, remote participation by telephone conference call in a meeting of a board committee does not count as remote participation by telephone conference call in a meeting of the board, even if:

(1)  a quorum of the full board attends the board committee meeting; or

(2)  notice of the board committee meeting is also posted as notice of a board meeting.

(j)  A person who is not a member of the board may speak at the meeting from a remote location by telephone conference call.

 

 

Sec. 551.131.  WATER DISTRICTS.  (a)  In this section, “water district” means a river authority, groundwater conservation district, water control and improvement district, or other district created under Section 52, Article III, or Section 59, Article XVI, Texas Constitution.

(b)  This section applies only to a water district whose territory includes land in three or more counties.

(c)  A meeting held by telephone conference call or video conference call authorized by this section may be held only if:

(1)  the meeting is a special called meeting and immediate action is required; and

(2)  the convening at one location of a quorum of the governing body of the applicable water district is difficult or impossible.

(d)  A meeting held by telephone conference call must otherwise comply with the procedures under Sections 551.125(c), (d), (e), and (f).

(e)  A meeting held by video conference call is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings.  In addition, a meeting held by video conference call shall:

(1)  be visible and audible to the public at the location specified in the notice of the meeting as the location of the meeting;

(2)  be recorded by audio and video; and

(3)  have two-way audio and video communications with each participant in the meeting during the entire meeting.

 

Once again, these are not all of the open meetings laws suspended by the Governor. Also, it is possible that the Governor may suspend additional open meetings laws before those currently suspended become effective once again. This list is merely provided for convenience and it is unlikely that it will be updated after being posted. Therefore, please refer to the Office of the Governor for up-to-date information.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.

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