State Senator Wants Meetings Live Streamed

Originally published in The Post-Journal on August 10, 2020.

Governments may be required to stream all open meetings and public hearings in real time even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order forced most meetings onto Zoom or live streaming, the Jamestown City Council has seen roughly 450 people view meetings online. The Chautauqua County Legislature has seen meetings viewed by as many as 640 people.

School board meetings in Panama and Clymer have seen a few hundred views for meetings. A June 16 Dunkirk Common Council meeting was seen by 1,230 people, and subsequent meetings have generated between 500 and 900 views.

Few smaller towns and villages in Chautauqua County live stream their meetings, though the Panama and Clymer school boards, among others, are streaming their monthly meetings and keeping them available either on YouTube or Facebook.

A July report by the New York Coalition for Open Government Inc. found that, despite Cuomo’s executive order, Elmira, Lockport and Olean weren’t live streaming their meetings as required. Of 20 governments studied, five didn’t post their meeting videos or audio recordings, only six posted meeting minutes within a month.

State Sen. Anna Kaplan, D-Carle Place, on Monday introduced legislation in the state Senate to amend Section 104 of the state Public Officers Law to require local governments to stream all open meetings and public hearings on its website in real time. Video recordings would have to be posted within five days of the meeting or public hearing and be maintained for at least five years.

“During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order calling for the live streaming of public meetings as local governments met remotely,” Kaplan wrote in her legislative justification. “Local governments adjusted and were able to comply with this executive order, and the public has embraced this increased accessibility to their elected officials. In Buffalo, a City Council meeting had over 18,000 views, and in Ogdensburg a server crashed as over 3,000 constituents attempted to view the meeting. These are two examples that show how embraced this concept is by the public. Government, both on the state and local level should be doing everything possible to increase public participation, and this legislation attempts to increase accessibility to the public.”

Kaplan’s legislation was referred to the Senate Rules Committee. Such legislation hasn’t been proposed before and companion legislation has yet to be introduced in the state Assembly.