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Rhode Island Considers Legislation to Stream Public Meetings

In order to increase public participation, state Rep. Michael Marcello has proposed legislation to fund live streaming meetings.

(TNS) -- Beginning in 2018, city and town councils, state public and quasi-public boards, and others would be required to record their meetings — and live-stream them online when practical — under a bill proposing the first major revisions to the state's Open Meetings Act in nearly two decades.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Michael Marcello, D-Scituate, and backed by the good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, proposes several technological changes in the way the state, cities and towns conduct business. The goal: increasing the public's participation in state government.

It also makes changes aimed at ensuring more information is available for the public. Retreats, a type of gathering that some bodies have argued doesn't count as a public meeting would be subject to the Open Meetings Act under the new proposal. It also clarifies that public bodies cannot go into closed session to hire real estate firms — a point aimed a actions taken by the Route 195 Redevelopment District Commission, Common Cause Executive Director John Marion said.

A move that Marion believes might garner the most attention, would allow public bodies to create online bulletin boards where board members could discuss issues — but not vote — in between meetings. The online bulletin board would have to be able to be publicly viewed.

"This proposed change acknowledges that the same technology that can be used to circumvent the law can be leveraged to encourage a public dialogue on issues of the day," Marion said.

Another bill sponsored by Sen. Stephen Archambault, D-Smithfield, proposes a host of revisions to the state's Access to Public Records Act, which controls what information is accessible to the public. Among changes proposed: the legislation would clarify that any documents reviewed, considered or submitted at a public meeting shall be considered public. That provision speaks to a battle the Providence Journal fought trying to obtain investment and due-diligence reports that the state's investment advisor, Cliffwater LLC, presented to the State Investment Commission in 2013.

This week marks "Sunshine Week," an initiative launched by the American Society of News Editors, to call attention to importance of open government and the free flow of information.

©2016 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.