Public Forum

Florida Works to Keep Official Meetings Accessible Amid COVID-19

Florida Governor
Governor-elect Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

On March 19th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced a temporary suspension of a law that requires government officials to be physically present during official meetings, one of many social distancing measures the state has implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Attorney General Ashley Moody delivered an opinion to me indicating that certain provisions of Florida law require a physical quorum be present for local government bodies to conduct official business, and that local government bodies may only conduct meetings by teleconferencing or other technological means if either a statute permits a quorum to be present by means other than in person, or that the in-person requirement for constituting a quorum is lawfully suspended during the state of emergency,” the executive order reads.

The change, though necessary, runs in tension with the state’s Sunshine Law that requires that the official meetings are accessible to the public.

According to The Palm Beach Post, some local officials have experimented with other means to keep channels open to the public. The newspaper reported that Palm Beach Gardens City Council is planning to post meetings online and invite public comment via email. 

Even before the executive order allowed officials to convene meetings virtually, some organizations had already started to make meetings accessible remotely in response to the coronavirus. A school board in Palm Beach County, for example, streamed a meeting on March 18th on their website and on local cable channels. In an interview with The Palm Beach Post, Barbara Peterson, a spokesperson for Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, said that officials would have to find other ways to expand access to those without the Internet or computers.

 The Palm Beach Post