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A. Is there a right to participate in public meetings?

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  • Alaska

    Alaska law affords the public not only a right to attend meetings of municipal bodies, but also a reasonable right to be heard at all regular and special meetings. AS 29.20.020(a). This right is afforded in the Municipal Code, and is not part of the Open Meetings Act, so that no such right exists generally with respect to all governmental bodies or public entities in the state other than those covered by the Municipal Code. However, the municipal code otherwise tracks the open meetings act by incorporating its exceptions and exemptions, so this right to be heard at municipal meetings does not extend a right to participate, or even be present, to the subject of an adjudication in the portion of an adjudicatory meeting closed pursuant to AS 44.62.319(d)(6) or its analogues. Griswold v. City of Homer, 55 P.3d 64, 73 (Alaska 2002).

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  • Arizona

    Arizona’s OML allows a member of the public to address a public body on any issue within that body’s jurisdiction if an open call to the public has been made during a public meeting.  See A.R.S. §38-431.01(H).

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  • Arkansas

    The FOIA “does not grant public participation in governmental meetings, but rather only provides that the public has a right to be informed of the actions of the governmental entity involved.” Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. (June 2, 1969). See also Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 93-052. However, other statutes may confer a right of participation. For example, the county quorum court and other county boards required to hold open meetings must “adopt rules for conducting the meeting which afford citizens a reasonable opportunity to participate prior to the final decision.” Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-109(b). See Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. Nos. 2000-106, 99-248, 95-230, 93-299, 93-052. If participation is not allowed when a statute so requires, action taken at the meeting may be subject to invalidation. Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 2000-106.

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  • California

    Yes, during a regular or special meeting, but not during a closed meeting. Under both Acts, a body must provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address each agenda item under consideration by the body either before or during the body’s discussion. Cal. Gov't Code §§ 11125.7(a) (Bagley-Keene Act); 54954.3(a) (Brown Act). Additionally, under the Brown Act, during a regular session but not during a special session, the public has a right to comment “on any item of interest to the public, before or during the legislative body’s consideration of the item, that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body ….”  Cal. Gov’t Code § 54954.3(a). This right has been construed to mean that there must be a period of time provided for general public comment on any matter within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body, as well as an opportunity for public comment on each specific agenda item as it is taken up by the body.  Galbiso v. Orosi Public Utility Dist., 167 Cal. App. 4th 1063, 1080, 84 Cal. Rptr. 3d 788 (2008); see also Chaffee v. San Francisco Library Commission, 115 Cal. App. 4th 461, 468-69, 9 Cal. Rptr. 3d 336 (2004).  Under the Brown Act, the right to comment includes the right to comment on matters to be considered by the body in closed session.  Galbiso, 167 Cal. App. 4th at 1080; see also Leventhal v. Vista Unified School Dist., 149 Cal. App. 4th 11424, 1437-39, 57 Cal. Rptr. 3d 885 (2007).

    Under both Acts, the right to comment on agenda items does not apply if the agenda item has already been considered by a committee composed exclusively of members of the body at a public meeting where the public had the opportunity to address the committee on the item, before or during the committee's consideration of the item, unless the item has been substantially changed since the committee heard the item, as determined by the body. Cal. Gov't Code §§ 11125.7(a) (Bagley-Keene Act); 54954.3(a) (Brown Act).

    The Bagley-Keene Act further provides that public testimony may be taken at a regular or special meeting if the state body takes no action at the same meeting on matters not on the notice and agenda that are brought before the body by the public. Cal. Gov't Code § 11125.7(a).

    Under both Acts, the state body or the legislative body of a local agency may not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the body, or the acts or omissions of the body. Cal. Gov't Code §§ 11125.7(c) (Bagley-Keene Act); 54954.3(c) (Brown Act).

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  • Colorado

    No provision in the Open Meetings Law addresses this issue. Unruly or indecorous conduct of the person seeking admittance is not advisable, since this will only give the public body legitimate grounds for exclusion.

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  • Connecticut

    (This section is blank. See the point above.)

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  • Delaware

    "Open to the public" means that members of the public attending the meeting should have an opportunity to participate actively, subject to reasonable time and other controls. The Attorney General has encouraged a public body to fulfill its statutory objection to have an open public meeting by answering questions by the citizens at public meetings. "[A public body] should make diligent efforts to answer valid, bona fide, good faith questions by its citizens. Otherwise, the statutory mandate contained in 29 Del. C. § 10001, § 10004(a) is not being met by the [public body]." Del. Op. Att'y Gen., No. 94-I023 (June 21, 1994). A public body, however, can restrict the opportunity for public comments to a designated time on the agenda.

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  • District of Columbia

    Not specifically addressed.

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  • Georgia

    Georgia county commissions and city councils and like bodies, e.g., school boards, typically have rules affording a limited right of public comment at meetings.  See, e.g., Cardinale v. City of Atlanta, 290 Ga. 521, 522, 722 S.E.2d 732, 734 (2012) (noting the existence of rules governing public comment at Atlanta city council meetings).  The state’s Open Meetings Act does not address the issue of public comment.

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  • Hawaii

    Yes. Pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. § 92-3 (2005) every meeting of all boards shall be open to the public and all persons shall be permitted to attend and submit data, views, or arguments, in writing as well as provide oral testimony. See id. A board must allow a person to testify on as many of the items on the agenda as the person wishes. Public Testimony, OIP Op. Ltr. No. 06-01 (Feb. 28, 2006). However, a person giving testimony at a public meeting does not have the right to question board members under the guise of oral testimony. Id.

    A board is not required to accept oral testimony on an agenda item that has been cancelled before the board considers it. Public Testimony, OIP Op. Ltr. No. 07-03 (Feb. 13, 2007). With respect to an agenda item of which the board has begun consideration but has deferred further action to another meeting or indefinitely, the board must accept oral testimony on such item. Id.

    A board can require that testimony be related to a stated agenda item, but it must interpret the agenda item broadly for the purpose of determining whether testimony is related to the agenda item. A board may not restrict the public from testifying on issues that fall within the general subject matter of an agenda item, and the scope of an agenda item is determined by the language used on the filed agenda, not the board’s intent as to the meaning of the agenda item. Right to Present Testimony, OIP Op. Ltr. No. 07-10 (June 27, 2007).

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  • Idaho

    The Open Meeting Law does not specifically provide for public participation. However, by uniform and local practice, public participation is universally allowed, subject to the governing body's particular practice.

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  • Illinois

    The Illinois Act does not specifically provide a right to participate in a public meeting. See People ex rel. Graf v. Village of Lake Bluff, 321 Ill. App. 3d 897, 907, 748 N.E.2d 801, 811, 255 Ill. Dec. 97, 107 (2d Dist. 2001), rev'd on other grounds, 206 Ill. 2d 541, 795 N.E.2d 281, 276 Ill. Dec. 928 (Ill. 2003). The Act does, however, require “any person … an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.” 5 ILCS 120/2(g) (emphasis added).

    In addition, the Act requires that public meetings be held at specified times and places which are convenient and open to the public. 5 ILCS 120/2.01. The Act may be violated by holding public meetings at inconvenient times and places. Id. See also Gerwin v. Livingston County Board, 345 Ill. App. 3d 352, 802 N.E.2d 410, 280 Ill. Dec. 485 (4th Dist. 2003). Convenience is determined by what is reasonable: It would be unreasonable to hold meetings in a small room because those wishing to attend would have difficulty gaining admittance, while it would also be unreasonable to require a public body to hold its meetings in a football stadium to accommodate all those who wish to attend. Gerwin. Further, a meeting place may be inconvenient under the Act even though it is the public body's typical meeting location. Id.

    Many public bodies provide regulations governing public comment periods, or limiting the number of speakers on a particular issue.

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  • Indiana

    No. The Open Door Law authorizes the public only to “observe and record” meetings. Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5-3(a).

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  • Kansas

    There is no statutory right to comment.

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  • Kentucky

    There is no right to participate in a public meeting. See 98-OMD-44 ("The Open Meetings Act does not grant [members of the public] the right to participate in the meeting and address . . . members of the public agency" (citing 95-OMD-99, p. 2)).

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  • Louisiana

    Yes. Each public body conducting an open meeting must provide an opportunity for public comment at the meeting, subject to reasonable rules, regulations, and restrictions. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42:14(D). School board public meetings have more stringent comment requirements under La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42:15, which requires the opportunity for public comment prior to taking any vote. Nevertheless, the statute states that the provisions of the Open Meeting Law "shall not prohibit the removal of any person or persons who willfully disrupt a meeting to the extent that orderly conduct of the meeting is seriously compromised." La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42:17(c).

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  • Maine

    Generally, no. Statutes regarding specific governmental bodies may deal with this subject. For example, in state proceedings governed by the Administrative Procedure Act, a party may need to intervene to have the right to participate.

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  • Massachusetts

    The OML provides no general right for a member of the public to address a governmental body.

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  • Montana

    Section 2-3-103, Mont. Code Ann., requires all state agencies to develop procedures for encouraging public participation in all decisions "of significant interest to the public." The procedures must include providing adequate notice. Local governments are more specifically required to open all meetings to the public and allow reasonable participation before reaching a decision, and "reasonable opportunity to submit data, views, or argument" regarding any decision of significant interest to the public. Mont. Code Ann. § 7-1-4142.

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  • Nebraska

    The public has the right to attend and the right to speak at meetings of public bodies except for closed sessions. Neb. Rev. Stat. §84-1412(1). The governing body, however, is authorized to make and enforce "reasonable rules and regulations regarding the conduct of persons attending, speaking at . . . its meetings" and may choose to prevent citizen comments at a meeting. But, the body "may not forbid public participation at all meetings." Neb. Rev. Stat. §84-1412(2). The public body may not refuse admission to any member of the public for failure to identify themselves, but the public body may require any member of the public to identify himself or herself before addressing the public body. Neb. Rev. Stat. §84-1412(3).

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  • Nevada

    A member of the public has a right to address the public body during the public comment period. NRS 241.020(2)(d)(3). A public body must adopt one of two alternative public comment agenda procedures. First, a public body may comply by agendizing one public comment period before any action items are heard by the public body and later it must hear another period of public comment before adjournment. Second, a public body must offer multiple periods of public comment, which heard after each agenda item, but before the public body takes action.

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  • New Jersey

    N.J.S.A. 10:4-12(a) requires that a body set aside a portion of every meeting, the length of which is to be determined by the governing body or board of education, for public comment on any governmental issue or school district issue that a member of the public feels may be of concern to the residents of the municipality.  This section is, however, limited to meetings of governing bodies and boards of education.

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  • New Mexico

    No statutory right to speak.  By rules, an individual body may provide a right to participate.

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  • North Carolina

    Cities and towns, county boards of commissioners, and local boards of education must provide at least one opportunity for public comment per month at a regular meeting of the council. G.S. § 160A-81.1; G.S. § 153A-52.1; 115C-51.
    The North Carolina Department of Transportation may designate state highway system roads in addition to those highways designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation for use by certain vehicles only after a public hearing is held or the opportunity for a public hearing is provided in each county through which the designated highway passes, after two weeks’ notice posted at the courthouse and published in a newspaper of general circulation in each county through which the designated state highway system road passes, and consideration is given to the comments received prior to the designation. G.S. § 20-115.1
    The Insurance Commissioner shall approve any merger or other acquisition of control of domestic insurer only after a public hearing held within 120 days after the required statement is filed, and the commissioner shall give at least 30 days’ notice of the hearing to the person filing the statement, to the insurer, and to such other persons as may be designated by the commissioner. At the hearing, any person whose interest may be affected by the hearing shall have the right to present evidence, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and offer oral or written arguments; and in connection therewith shall be entitled to conduct discovery proceedings at any time after the statement is filed with the commissioner under this section and in the same manner as is presently allowed in the superior courts of this state. G.S. § 58-19-15.
    Procedure for a medical, hospital, or dental service corporation to convert to a stock accident and health insurance company or stock life insurance company. Within 20 days of receiving a plan to convert, the Commissioner shall publish a notice in one or more newspapers of general circulation in the corporation’s service area describing the name of the corporation, the nature of the plan filed under G.S. § 58-65-131(d), and the date of receipt of the plan. The notice shall indicate that the Commissioner will solicit public comments and hold three public hearings on the plan. The public hearings must be completed within 60 days of the filing of the conversion plan. The written public comment period will be held open until 10 days after the last public hearing. For good cause the Commissioner may extend these deadlines once for a maximum of 30 days. The Commissioner shall provide copies of all written public comments to the Attorney General. All applications, reports, plans, or other documents under G.S. § 58-65-131, G.S. § 58-65-132, and G.S. § 58-65-133 are public records unless otherwise provided in this Chapter. The Commissioner shall provide the public with prompt and reasonable access to public records relating to the proposed conversion of the corporation. Access to public records covered by this section shall be made available for at least 30 days before the end of the public comment period. G.S. §§ 58-65-131(g) and (h).
    Before the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issues a permit for the mining of land, the owners of adjacent land shall be provided notice and an opportunity to request a public hearing regarding the proposed mining operation. G.S. § 74-50.
    The Department of Health and Human Services shall hold a public hearing with the opportunity for the submission of oral and written public comments before issuing a certificate of public advantage governing a cooperative agreement among physicians, hospitals, and others for the provision of health care services. G.S. § 90-21.27. G.S. § 131E-192.4.
    Before the Industrial Commission adopts maximum fees for medical compensation, it must hold a public hearing no earlier than 15 days after publication of notice of the hearing and must be open to receive written comments for at least 30 days or until the public hearing, whichever is later. G.S. § 97-26.
    Before the granting of shellfish cultivation leases to persons who reside in North Carolina, there shall be a public hearing in the county where the proposed leasehold lies and must twice provide legal notice. The right to comment at the public hearing is implied in the statute. G.S. § 113-202.
    Prior to adoption or amendment of any land-use plan, the body charged with its preparation and adoption shall hold a public hearing at which public and private parties shall have the opportunity to present comments and recommendations. Notice of the hearing shall be given not less than 30 days before the date of the hearing and shall state the date, time, and place of the hearing; the subject of the hearing; the action which is proposed; and that copies of the proposed plan or amendment are available for public inspection at a designated office in the county courthouse during designated hours. G.S. § 113A-110.
    Prior to adopting any rule permanently designating any area of environmental concern, the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources and the Coastal Resources Commission shall hold a public hearing in each county in which lands to be affected are located, at which public and private parties shall have the opportunity to present comments and views. Notice of the hearing shall be given not less than 30 days before the date of the hearing and shall state the date, time and place of the hearing, the subject of the hearing, and the action to be taken. The notice shall specify that a copy of the description of the area or areas of environmental concern proposed by the secretary is available for public inspection at the county courthouse of each county affected. Any such notice shall be published at least once in one newspaper of general circulation in the county or counties affected at least 30 days before the date on which the public hearing is scheduled to begin. Any person who desires to be heard at such public hearing shall give notice thereof in writing to the secretary on or before the first date set for the hearing. The secretary is authorized to set reasonable time limits for the oral presentation of views by any one person at any such hearing. The secretary shall permit anyone who so desires to file a written argument or other statement with him in relation to any proposed plan any time within 30 days following the conclusion of any public hearing or within such additional time as he may allow by notice given as prescribed in this section. G.S. § 113A-115.
    Prior to adopting an implementation and enforcement program, the local governing body of each city in the coastal area that filed an affirmative letter of intent shall hold a public hearing at which public and private parties shall have the opportunity to present comments and views. Notice of the hearing shall be given not less than 15 days before the date of the hearing, and shall state the date, time and place of the hearing, the subject of the hearing, and the action which is to be taken. The notice shall state that copies of the proposed implementation and enforcement program are available for public inspection at the county courthouse. Any such notice shall be published at least once in one newspaper of general circulation in the county at least 15 days before the date on which the public hearing is scheduled to begin. G.S. § 113A-117.
    The State Board of Education shall provide public hearings, adequate notice of such hearings, and an opportunity for comment available to the general public prior to the adoption of the policies, procedures, and rules or regulations related to the education of children with special needs. G.S. § 115C-110.
    When the General Assembly incorporates a city or town that includes within its territory 50 percent or more of the territory of a sanitary district, the governing body of the city or town shall become ex officio the governing board of the sanitary district if the General Assembly provides for this action in the incorporation act and if the existing sanitary district board adopts a final resolution pursuant to this section. Upon adoption of a preliminary resolution, the chairperson of the sanitary district board shall publish a notice of the public hearing once at least 10 days before the hearing in a newspaper of general circulation within the sanitary district. This notice shall set forth the time and place of the hearing and shall briefly describe its purpose. At the hearing, the board shall hear any citizen of the sanitary district or of the city or town who wishes to speak to the subject of the preliminary resolution. G.S. § 130A-51.
    A sanitary district board is authorized to establish as zoning units any portions of the sanitary district not under the control of the United States or the state. The board shall hold a public hearing to obtain comment on the proposed creation of the zoning area. A notice of public hearing must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county at least two times, and a copy of the notice shall be posted at the county courthouse and in three other public places in the sanitary district. G.S. § 130A-55. When a petition has been filed to dissolve a sanitation sanitary district, there shall be a public hearing. The county board of commissioners shall give notice of the hearing by posting notice at the courthouse door of the county or counties and also by publication in a newspaper or newspapers circulating in the district at least once a week for four consecutive weeks. G.S. § 130A-73.
    When a petition has been made for a certificate of need, the Department of Health and Human Services shall ensure that a public hearing is conducted at a place within the appropriate health service area if the review to be conducted is competitive; the proponent proposes to spend five million dollars ($5,000,000) or more; a written request for a public hearing is received before the end of the written comment period from an affected party, or the agency determines that a hearing is in the public interest. At such public hearing oral arguments may be made regarding the application or applications under review; and this public hearing shall include an opportunity for any affected person to present comments regarding the applications under review. G.S. § 131E-185.
    Portions of rail corridors held by the North Carolina Department of Transportation in fee simple absolute may be leased by the Department for interim public recreation use provided that before requesting trail use, a sponsoring unit of local government has held a public hearing in accordance with G.S. § 143-318.12 and notified the owners of all parcels of land abutting the corridor as shown on the county tax listing of the hearing date, place, and time by first-class mail at the last addresses listed for such owners on the county tax abstracts. A transcript of all public comments presented at the hearing must have been sent to the North Carolina Department of Transportation at the time of requesting use of the corridor. G.S. § 136-44.36D.
    The appropriations committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate and subcommittees thereof shall sit jointly in open sessions while considering the budget, and all taxpayers or other persons interested in the estimates under consideration shall be admitted with the right to be heard. G.S. § 143-14.
    Upon receipt of a petition for the transfer of water from one river basin to another, the Environmental Management Commission shall hold a public hearing on the proposed transfer after giving at least 30 days’ written notice, including the procedure to be followed by anyone wishing to submit comments on the proposed water transfer. G.S. § 143-215.22I.
    A state agency must accept comments on a notice of proposed rulemaking proceedings. G.S. § 150B-21.2. There are exceptions for temporary rules in the case of emergencies. G.S. § 150B-21.1.
    Before closing a public road or easement within a county, the board of commissioners shall first adopt a resolution declaring its intent to close the public road or easement and calling a public hearing on the question. The board shall cause a notice of the public hearing reasonably calculated to give full and fair disclosure of the proposed closing to be published once a week for three successive weeks before the hearing. At the hearing the board shall hear all interested persons who appear with respect to whether the closing would be detrimental to the public interest or to any individual property rights. G.S. § 153A-241. Similar provisions apply to closure of city streets and alleys. G.S. § 160A-299.
    Any municipal governing board desiring to annex territory under the provisions of this Part shall first pass a resolution stating the intent of the municipality to consider annexation and shall conduct a public informational hearing. All persons resident or owning property in the territory described in the notice of public hearing, and all residents of the municipality, shall be given the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers regarding the proposed annexation. Property owners and residents also shall be afforded the opportunity to be heard at the public hearing at which the issue is decided. G.S. § 160A-49.
    Any city intending to create extraterritorial jurisdiction shall inform the landowner of the effect of the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction and of the landowner’s right to participate in a public hearing prior to adoption of any ordinance extending the area of extraterritorial jurisdiction. G.S. § 160A-360.

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  • Ohio

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue (not applicable).

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  • Oklahoma

    Neither the Open Meeting Act nor "the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides an opportunity for citizens to express their views on issues being considered by a public body, but a public body may voluntarily choose to allow for such comments." 2002 OK AG 26. See also 1998 OK AG 45; 2004 OK AG 44.

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  • Oregon

    No, except perhaps removal or citation under criminal law, if applicable.

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  • Rhode Island

    No specific provision.

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  • South Carolina

    No, but many local government bodies allow for public comment.

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  • Tennessee

    No. The Act does not require governing bodies to permit members of the public to speak, comment, or actively participate in the meeting. Whittemore v. Brentwood Planning Comm'n., 835 S.W.2d 11 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992). It is not a violation of the Act for a governing body to order the removal of a person who is disrupting the meeting.

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  • Texas

    Although it is customary practice that comments be heard from the general public during public meetings, the Open Meetings Act does not actually provide the public a right to participate or comment at public meetings. Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JC-0169 (2000) (citing Charlestown Homeowners Ass’n, 507 S.W.2d at 883); Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JM-584 (1986); Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. H-188 (1973); see also Eudaly v. City of Colleyville, 642 S.W.2d 75, 77 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1982, writ ref’d n.r.e.) (distinguishing between “public meeting,” where public was not entitled to comment, and “public hearing,” where public was entitled to comment). A meeting that is “open to the public” under the Act is one that the public is entitled to attend, not one in which they are entitled to participate. See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. M-220 (1968); Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. LO-96-111 (1996).

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  • Vermont

    There is a public right to a “reasonable opportunity” to comment and express “opinion” on any matter under consideration at an open meeting, “as long as order is maintained” and “subject to reasonable rules established by the chairperson.” 1 V.S.A. § 312(h).  The Vermont Supreme Court has recognized that “[n]ot only the ‘right-to-know’ is protected by the statute, but also the right to be present, to be heard, and to participate.”  State v. Vermont Emergency Bd., 136 Vt. 506, 508, 394 A.2d 1360, 1361 (Vt. 1978).

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  • West Virginia

    The Open Meetings Act does not address the issue of the public's right to comment at public meetings. Section 6-9A-3 provides that "persons who desire to address the governing body may not be required to register more than fifteen minutes prior to [the] time the scheduled meeting is to commence." The statute does not explicitly provide a public right to comment and there are no West Virginia cases addressing this issue. However, as a general matter, when a public agency allows public comment at a meeting, it cannot arbitrarily allow some persons to speak while excluding others similarly situated from so doing.

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  • Wyoming

    The Public Meetings Act is silent as to this issue. Wyoming has no case law regarding whether public meetings are public forums in which the right to speak may not be abridged based upon the content of the speech or the viewpoint of the speaker.

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