Governments Redefine ‘Public’ Access During COVID Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic is redefining the way the American public interacts with its government.
It wasn't long ago when a public meeting of a city council or state legislature meant that constituents could attend in-person and voice concerns. Now more public bodies are livestreaming their meetings. But an Associated Press survey of state legislatures also found that most no longer allow the public inside their chambers. Some still do not allow people to testify remotely at committee hearings. Some city councils that convene remotely have also done away with verbal input from the public, allowing only written comments.
A year after the first coronavirus shutdowns, public records have become harder to get in many U.S. states and cities. Governors, legislatures and local officials have suspended or ignored laws that set deadlines to respond to records requests. Many officials have cited obstacles for staff members who work from home or who are overwhelmed with crisis management. Some requests that used to take days or weeks now take months. New data shows that government agencies saw a sixfold increase last year in the time spent on records requests.
(Story written by DAVID A. LIEB/AP)