SC Law: Balancing public meetings with public health

Public doesn’t have to be physically present for meeting to be considered “open to the public"
Updated: Mar. 18, 2020 at 8:27 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Several local counties and cities are announcing meetings will be streamed online until further notice.

Those leaders are balancing the laws of public meetings with concerns of public health.

The SC Freedom of Information Act defines how public meetings should work and ensures that we all know what's happening in those meetings.

We asked Jay Bender, a South Carolina attorney and media law expert, about whether it's legal for a government to not allow the public to physically attend public meetings.

"South Carolina law requires that all meetings of public bodies be convened in public, but that doesn't mean the public is always entitled to be physically present," Bender explained.

The key - Bender said- is that citizens must still have access in some way.

"An electronic meeting is permissible so long as the public has an opportunity by a live video feed or listening on a telephone conference call to be informed of the business being transacted."

It's possible some counties and cities will need to revise whether they can vote virtually and how to take public comment.

Bender also said those public meetings still need to be announced and open to the public."A pandemic is no justification for closing a meeting."

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