By Christy Drake-Adams, TML Legal Counsel
Does the Open Meetings Act (Act) allow a city council to hold a meeting by videoconference call?
Yes, if certain conditions are met. See Tex. Gov’t Code § 551.127. Prior to legislation passed in 2013, the Act generally required that a quorum be present in one physical location in order for a governmental body to meet by videoconference. In an effort to modernize the Act to reflect the use of Internet-based communication technology, the legislature passed House Bill 2414 (Button/Deuell) and Senate Bill 984 (Ellis/Perry) during the 83rd Regular Legislative Session. Both bills amend the existing section in the Act that allows for videoconferencing. House Bill 2414 is effective immediately. Senate Bill 984 is not effective until September 1, 2013.
An attorney with the Texas Legislative Council (TLC) has indicated to League staff that, once effective, both bills will be printed. In other words, TLC will not work to reconcile the two bills. Instead, city attorneys will have to look to the rules of statutory construction in order to make sense of the bills. Those rules provide that, as a general matter, “if amendments to the same statute are enacted at the same session of the legislature, one amendment without reference to another, the amendments shall be harmonized, if possible, so that effect may be given to each. If the amendments are irreconcilable, the latest in date of enactment prevails.” Id. § 311.025(b). The TLC attorney confirmed with League staff that House Bill 2414 was enacted later than Senate Bill 984. That means that in the case of an irreconcilable conflict House Bill 2414 will control.
The most substantial difference between the bills appears to be in Section 551.127(c). Both bills expand the ability of a governmental body to use videoconferencing by eliminating the requirement that a quorum be present in one physical location. However, House Bill 2414 eliminates this requirement as to any governmental body, and Senate Bill 984 eliminates this requirement only as to governmental bodies that extend into three or more counties.
Some attorneys believe the bills irreconcilably conflict, but League staff believes the bills can be harmonized. Go to http://www.tml.org/p/Videoconferencing_Aug%202013_CDA.pdf for a complete question and answer analysis.