PROVIDENCE — State Sen. Victoria Gu and Rep. Justine A. Caldwell are sponsoring legislation to make it easier for residents to participate in local government by allowing advisory boards and commissions to hold meetings via videoconference and allowing residents to testify remotely in certain local meetings, including town council, planning, zoning and school committee meetings.
“New England is the home of big town hall meetings where neighbors get together to discuss issues that impact our lives,” said Sen. Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown). “But if we want more people to be engaged and have a voice in their government, we need to make it easier for people to fit this into their already hectic and busy lives, and we need to make it more accessible for seniors or anyone else who has a hard time getting to the meetings.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, local government bodies across the state held public meetings on Zoom or other video conferencing software. Residents could watch the meetings from home and offer testimony remotely. As business returned to normal, most communities did away with this option.
The new legislation (2023-H 5722) would allow municipal and state bodies that are advisory-only to host meetings via videoconference, which could encourage attendance and participation. It would also require town and city councils, school committees, zoning boards, planning boards and quasi-public entities such as RIPTA to allow virtual testimony. That, advocates say, would better encourage democratic participation.
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