State Sen. Sharon Hewitt plans to author a bill that would allow members of the disabled community to participate remotely in state committee and board meetings.
A Senate task force on remote operations of public entities voted Friday to suggest guidelines for how statewide bodies can hold their meetings remotely.
The guidelines aim to provide flexibility for board and commission members from all over the state who must travel to meet in person and to accommodate members of the disabled community so they can participate in government, according Hewitt, a Republican from Slidell who is running for governor.
“During COVID, we all learned you could operate remotely, and there were some really strong benefits to doing that,” Hewitt said. “And so, we’re trying to capitalize on some of those things while still recognizing that we are doing the people’s work.”
The provisions would permit statewide entities that meet at least six times a year to hold no more than one-third of their meetings remotely. Local entities are always required to meet in person, except in declared states of disaster or emergency.
Under the guidelines, some boards and commissions, such as the ones governing K-12 and higher education, would be ineligible to meet remotely.
All board and commission members with a disability recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act would be allowed to participate in meetings remotely.
Task force member Lillian DeJean advocated that disabled members of the public also be allowed to join in-person local meetings remotely.
“I just feel like, with your members of the public, it’s almost equally important that your disabled public gets to participate,” DeJean said.
Steven Procopio, another task force member with the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said he agreed with DeJean but cautioned that requiring local bodies to provide remote access for disabled individuals might introduce an unfunded mandate, which is not allowed under Louisiana’s Constitution. While members said this point will require further legal discussion, the recommendation was adopted.
The task force also provided special considerations for boards and commissions that serve the disabled community.
Amy Deaville, executive director of Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, asked that the task force consider board members with disabilities and the caregivers of individuals with disabilities who serve the council when drafting the bill.
“I couldn’t be happier for the outcome today, and I’m looking forward to see how that legislation is going to look in April,” said Christina Martin, regional advocacy leader for Louisiana Council’s Advocacy Network.
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