Bill would allow those with disabilities to participate remotely in public bodies

LANSING, Mich. (May 9, 2024) – Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) introduced Senate Bill 870 today that would amend Michigan’s Open Meetings Act to allow for virtual participation for persons with disabilities who request accommodation to participate and vote in public bodies.

“This legislation recognizes the physical and communication barriers that currently exist for members of our communities that have disabilities,” Sen. McCann said. “Too often, arranging critical needs like adequate and appropriate transportation can put an unfair burden on a person with a disability and may prevent them from attending and participating in a public body in person — a fundamental right that our democracy is based on. My bill allows for reasonable accommodation to ensure Michigan residents with disabilities have the same accessible opportunities to participate in public bodies as everyone else.”

In 2022, Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion indicating that state boards must hold meetings in person under the Open Meetings Act (OMA), but that individual members with disabilities must be allowed to participate remotely under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An excerpt of the opinion reads:

“It is my opinion, therefore, that the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act require state and local boards and commissions to provide reasonable accommodations, which could include an option to participate virtually, to qualified individuals with a disability who request an accommodation in order to fully participate as a board or commission member or as a member of the general public in meetings that are required by the Open Meetings Act to be held in a place available to the general public.”

“Civic participation is vital to strong and vibrant communities and effective governance locally, statewide, and across our nation. We are all better off when debate, discussion, and policymaking are accessible to all members of our community. I and Disability Network Michigan are thankful for the leadership of individuals such as Senator McCann, who recognize that we must do better to make community meetings open, accessible, and inclusive. Revising the Open Meetings Act to include remote participation for people with disabilities is an important and necessary step forward for all of us,” said Alex Gossage, Chair, Disability Network Michigan Board of Directors, and Executive Director, Disability Network Washtenaw Monroe Livingston.