Plan would require audio recordings of state panel meetings

Lansing – Lawmakers seek to shed light on state officials by expanding the Open Meetings Act to require audio recordings of licenses and other rulemaking boards and commissions.

While people can attend meetings of public bodies and record or broadcast them, state law does not require them to be recorded.

This proposed change requires that a meeting be recorded as audio, video with sound, or by a recordable broadcast. These recordings should be made available to the public for at least one year after the meeting.

Supporters of the bill say it provides a solid basis for improving access to government meetings.

Having access to these recordings would be a valuable tool for journalists, said Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager for the Michigan Press Association.

Broadcasting representatives agree.

“Anytime we’re able to get a recording of what’s going on from the officials, I think it’s important and critical,” said Sam Klemet, president-elect of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.

“Obviously, we are an industry that supports the Open Meetings Act and we want to see it with as strong a capacity as possible,” Klemet said.

To be the voice of the local communities they serve, having access to meetings is important for broadcasters, as well as members of the public, Klemet said.

But the bill could go further.

“I would like it to apply to the Open Meetings Act as a whole, not just specific state commissions,” McGraw said. This would require recordings of all public meetings.

“I think if (the bill) was done right it could be a godsend for sure. This would allow easier access, ”McGraw said.

The idea came from the discovery of a citizen that the National Commission of the Construction Code stopped recording its meetings in 2019, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Recordings of committee meetings were previously available through the Freedom of Information Act. The citizen needed the recording of a specific meeting to appeal one of the committee’s decisions. The absence of one cost the citizen the call.

Meeting minutes never tell the whole story, and in 2021 it’s very easy to record things, said Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, one of the co-sponsors.

If you can record one meeting, why not record them all, Johnson said.

“Being able to go back and ask FOIA the whole meeting, it allows someone to get a lot more context than you could unless you were physically present at the meeting,” said Steve Delie, director of the meeting. open government at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland and volunteer executive director of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government.

The bill is co-sponsored by Johnson and Representatives Gary Howell, R-North Branch, and Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond.

While audio is a good place to start, seeing and hearing a meeting provides the most context about the meeting and its atmosphere, supporters said.

“I’m in favor of video recording, but I think it’s just a good first step to start with the audio and show ‘hey it can be done, it’s really not that hard to do’ Johnson said. “Hopefully in the future, once we get that established, some future legislative body will say, ‘Hey, let’s extend that to video. “”

“At this point we’re trying to do what’s really possible, which the governor might be willing to sign,” Johnson said.

The Department of Civil Rights opposed the bill unless it finds a way to ensure that these records are also accessible under the United States Disability Act and the Human Rights Act. Michigan disabled people.

Audio and video recordings may need to be transcribed in a written document or in Braille. These accommodations could entail considerable costs, according to the ministry’s testimony.

“Right now you don’t have anything and the Civil Rights Department (says)“ an audio recording, it’s not just for those who can’t hear. ”Well, those who can’t hear, they aren’t getting anything right now, ”Johnson said.

It might be worth having an addition to the bill to account for someone’s disability, Delie said.

While these circumstances should not be overly common because these recordings provide either sound or sound and video, citizens should not be excluded from actively engaging in their government, Delie said.

Representatives of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget also opposed the bill, according to the legislative analysis.

The department is concerned about the administrative and technical aspects and costs associated with the implementation of the bill, wrote Laura Wotruba, the agency’s communications specialist, in an email.

“I don’t think that’s a reasonable argument,” Delie said. “Unless the costs are astronomical, I don’t think that warrants a step back. “

The bill was approved by 91 votes in favor, 11 against and seven non-voting members. It was referred to the Senate Oversight Committee.

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