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Nessel: Open meetings law, ADA requires online option

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Christin Hume
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State and local boards in Michigan must provide remote participation options for people with disabilities for all meetings that are open to the public, according to an official legal opinion issued Friday by state Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Nessel said during an online news conference that the opinion will help ensure public bodies subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act are also complying with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Having a disability should not be a barrier for those who wish to participate in their state government,” she said.

Nessel said the state open meetings law does not specifically require an online option for people with disabilities. But, she said, boards and commissions have shown during the COVID-19 crisis they can easily go online when necessary, so remote options should not pose an “undue burden” under the law.

She said there’s no reason that same technology can’t always be used to help people with disabilities participate as board members or during public comment periods.

Nessel cited Article II of the ADA as central to her determination:

“Title II is brief, but there is a lot packed into a few words: ‘[N]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services programs or activities of a public entity or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.’”

Nessel said the opinion does not automatically require boards and commissions to offer a remote participation option, although many public bodies already do. She said it would be up to the public body and someone who requests an accommodation for a disability to reach an agreement. Otherwise, an impasse would have to be settled in court.

The opinion was requested last month by Republican state Senator Wayne Schmidt and Democratic Senator Jeff Irwin.

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