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All-electronic government meetings must end when Indiana COVID-19 emergency expires

All-electronic government meetings must end when Indiana COVID-19 emergency expires

All-electronic government meetings must end when Indiana COVID-19 emergency expires

The Lake County Council adopted a new electronic meeting policy Tuesday to comply with a new Indiana law limiting members' virtual participation in local government meetings after the state's COVID-19 emergency expires July 1.

CROWN POINT — The Hoosier State's experiment with all-electronic local government meetings is coming to an end.

When Gov. Eric Holcomb's final COVID-19 emergency declaration expires July 1, local units of government, including county, city and town councils, school boards, and similar entities no longer can hold "virtual" meetings with every member participating remotely.

Going forward, some remote participation still will be possible. But it will be nothing like the past 15 months when Indiana governmental entities large and small switched to online meetings to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus.

House Enrolled Act 1437 sets the parameters local governments must follow if they want to continue allowing remote participation in limited circumstances.

The Lake County Council adopted virtual meeting rules in accordance with the new state law Tuesday, and other local governments in Northwest Indiana, and across the state, are expected to follow suit in coming weeks.

Under the statute, at least 50% of the members of a governing body must be physically present for each meeting, with the remainder permitted to attend electronically so long as they can engage in two-way audio and visual communication with the other members.

At the same time, the law requires each member attend at least half the entity's meetings in person over the course of the year, unless the member is absent due to military service, illness, death of a relative, or an actual emergency endangering people or property.

When even just one board member is participating remotely all votes must be taken by roll call, with each member, whether in person or online, announcing their vote individually on every issue, according to the law.

Go on patrol with Aaron Crawford, a Cpl. with the Lowell Police Department, as he speaks about joining the force, DUI enforcement grants, and police Jiu-jitsu training.

However, the statute bars remote participation and voting when a governing body is meeting to adopt a budget, eliminate personnel, initiate a referendum, exercise eminent domain authority, or establish or increase a tax, fee or penalty.

The new law was approved 82-6 by the House and 49-0 in the Senate. State Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, the sponsor, said it provides appropriate "guardrails" for ensuring accountability and transparency for local governments that want to continue offering a remote participation option.

The law also permits local governments to adopt more stringent virtual meeting policies and allows for a temporary return to all-electronic meetings during an officially declared state or local disaster.

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