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Permission to Speak Freely

Nebraska Legislature to consider bill requiring public comment in meetings

By Joshua Wood, Stevenson Newspapers

A piece of legislation making its way through the state legislature could expand the rights of the public at meetings from the local to state level if passed.

Legislature Bill 637, introduced by Senator Joni Albrecht (R - Lincoln), is scheduled for a hearing on February 24 before the Government, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee. LB637, as introduced, would amend Nebraska State Statute 84-1412 which regulates the meetings of a public body and the rights of the public.

Under the current statute, while a governing body is not required to allow members of the public to speak at every meeting, it cannot prevent public participation at all meetings.

Section 2 of the statute reads, “A body may not be required to allow citizens to speak at each meeting, but it may not forbid public participation at all meetings.”

LB637 would remove this language and add language under Section 1 of the statute, which would read “except for closed sessions … a public body shall allow members of the public an opportunity to speak at each meeting.”

It should be noted that both Sidney City Council and the Board of Cheyenne County Commissioners include public comment on their respective agendas at each meeting. During meetings of the Sidney City Council, the public is informed they have the opportunity to speak on any subject which isn't already on the agenda.

Under Nebraska’s open meeting laws, a public body can make and enforce “reasonable rules and regulations” for the conduct of people attending or speaking at its meetings. Additionally, while a member of the public is not required to identify themselves to attend a meeting, they are required to identify themselves when speaking to the governing body.

The hearing for LB637 in the Government, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee will begin at 1:30 p.m. on February 24.


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