Nebraska Open Meetings Act

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The Nebraska Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Statutes 84.1407-84.1414 of the Nebraska Code define the law.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA

The Attorney General has defined political subdivision as "any subdivision of a state which has its purpose carrying out the functions of the state which are inherent necessities of government and which have always been regarded as such by the public."

  • Nixon v. Madison County Agricultural Society (1984) -- the Court found that a county agricultural society, organized under the Nebraska statutes, was subject to the provisions of the open meetings law. The Court noted that, although the society at issue resembled a private corporation in some respects, the fact that it had the right to receive support from the public revenue gave it a public character. The agricultural society apparently was an "independent board . . . created by constitution, statute, or otherwise pursuant to law." Based upon the Nixon case, the Attorney General concluded that county extension services which have the right to receive support from public revenues are subject to the open meetings law Also based upon the Nixon case, the Attorney General has indicated that county agricultural societies are subject to the open meetings statutes.
  • Marks v. Judicial Nominating Commission for Judge of the County Court of the 20th Judicial District(1990) -- the Court held that the open meetings statutes do not apply to the activities of a judicial nominating commission which is meeting to select nominees for judicial vacancies. Such a nomination procedure does not involve the formulation of public policy subject to the act.
  • Johnson v. Nebraska Environmental Control Council (1993) -- The Nebraska Court of Appeals held that the open meetings statutes apply to the governing bodies of all agencies of the executive branch of government, including the Nebraska Environmental Control Council.
  • State ex rel. Newman v. Columbus Township Board (2007) -- the Nebraska Court of Appeals concluded that the electors of a Nebraska township, when assembled at the township's annual meeting, constitute a governing body of the township which is subject to the Open Meetings Act and its provisions concerning notice and preparation of an agenda.




Here is a list of open meetings lawsuits in Nebraska. For more information go the page or go to Nebraska sunshine lawsuits.
(The cases are listed alphabetically. To order them by year please click the icon to the right of the Year heading)

Lawsuit Year
Nixon v. Madison County Agricultural Society 1984


Proposed open meetings legislation

2010

See also Proposed transparency legislation, Open meetings legislation

We do not currently have any legislation for Nebraska in 2010.


Statement of purpose

The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states,
"It is hereby declared to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret.

Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the public in order that citizens may exercise their democratic privilege of attending and speaking at meetings of public bodies, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of Nebraska, federal statutes,

and the Open Meetings Act."[1]

Which government meetings are open to the public?

The law states that all regular or special gatherings, whether informal or formal, where a public body convenes for the purposes of discussing and deciding on public policy are considered meetings and are to be open to the public. This definition explicitly includes meetings which make use of telecommunication equipment. The act specifically states that emails may not be used so as to circumvent the intention of this act.

Notable exceptions to this definition include:

  • Chance meetings
  • Conventions or workshops at which public officials are in attendance but no meeting ocurrs[1]

What government bodies are subject to the laws?

The act defines government body as:

  • all governing bodies of political subdivisions
  • all bodies created by the state within the state executive department
  • all other bodies created by law or statute
  • all study or advisory committees of the executive department of the state whether of continuing or limited existence[1]
  • "advisory committees of the governing bodies of political subdivisions, of the governing bodies of agencies of the executive branch of state government, or of independent boards, commissions, etc."
  • "instrumentalities exercising essentially public functions."[2]

Notable exemptions to the definition of public body include:

  • sub-committees of public bodies, where the number of members do not reach a quorum of the members
  • judicial bodies unless they are acting in an administrative or rule making capacity
  • policy cabinet[1]


==== Legislature====

Ambiguous

The Nebraska Open Meetings Act is ambiguous as to whether or not the law applies to the legislature. While the broad definition of public body would presumably include state legislators it is unclear. In addition, while the constitution requires the legislatures meetings to be open to the public, it also permits the legislature to close the doors when it sees fit. In addition, historically the legislature has laid out rules for its own executive sessions.[3]

Notice requirements

The act requires public agencies to provide appropriate public notice, including posting the time and date of the meeting as well as an up to date agenda. The agenda cannot be changed within 24 hours of a state meeting and 48 hours of a meeting of a political subdivision. Public agencies are also required to maintain a list of news media who have requested meeting notifications and are required to contact them to notify them of meetings.[1]

Meeting process

The public has a right to attend and participate in open meetings.

'Recording Members of the public are permitted to bring audio and visual recording devices, so long as they do not interfere with the meeting's process.[1]

Conferencing Meetings of certain public bodies are allowed to be through teleconferencing and videoconferencing. Various state government bodies including state agencies, boards, commissions, and councils, and their advisory committees, organizations created under the Interlocal Cooperation Act or the Municipal Cooperative Financing Act and the governing bodies whose power extends to more than 50 counties may hold meetings by videoconferencing if:

  • reasonable advance publicized notice is given
  • reasonable arrangements are made so the public's right to attend, hear and speak at the meeting, including seating, recording by audio and visual recording devices, and an reasonable opportunity for input such as public comment or questions to at least the same extent as would be provided absent videoconferencing
  • at least one copy of all documents under consideration is available to the public at each site of the videoconference
  • at least one member of the public body is present at each site of the videoconference
  • no more than half of the body's meetings in a calendar year are videoconferences.[1]

The territory that the public agency represents covers must be more than one county for them to conduct telephone conferencing. There must be reasonable advance publicized notice that identifies the telephone conference location and the location must be in a public building that has the capacity for the anticipated audience. There must be reasonable arrangements made to accommodate the public's right to attend, hear, and speak at the meeting, including seating, recordings by audio devices, and a reasonable opportunity for input such as public comment or questions to at least the same extent as would be provided if a telephone conference call was not used.[2]

Executive sessions

Common executive session exemptions
Personal privacy (including employees)Yes.pngp
Attorney-client privilege/litigation
Security/police informationYes.pngp
Purchase or sale of property
Union negotiationsYes.pngp
Licensing exams/decisions
Exempt under other laws

As of February 12, 1992, the Attorney General mandated that those committees of faculty, administration and students that the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska created to advise the Chancellor of the University in his administrative and management duties, with respect to budget cuts, were part of the management structure of the University. This means the meetings of these advisory committees are not public bodies subject to the open meetings statutes.[2]

Any public body may convene a close session to either protect public interest or the personal information of an individual. A closed session requires a majority vote by the members of the board present at the meeting. The public body must return to open sessions before taking any actions or votes. Executive sessions can be called for the following reasons, but are not limited to these reasons:

  • collective bargaining strategy and litigation strategy, especially with regard to material that would fall under the attorney client privilege
  • Security information
  • criminal misconduct investigations
  • job performance evaluations[1]

If violated

Any Nebraska citizen can file a suit in the district court of the county if they believe a body to have violated the act. When a member or the body is in violation of the public meetings statutes, any action taken at the meeting in violation can be voided by the district court, as long as the court's decision occurs within 120 days of the alleged violation. A suit to void the final action must be finished within one year of the action. The court can order payment of reasonable attorney's fees and court costs to the plaintiff if he or she is successful in the suit. Any public official found in violation of the open meetings act is guilty of a class IV misdemeanor for the 1st offense and a class III misdemeanor for subsequent offenses[1]


See also

External links

References