Texas Government Code §551.007, which amended the Texas Open Meetings Act as it relates to public testimony at open meetings, became effective one year ago, on September 1, 2019. Before this law went into effect, the public did not have the right to speak about agenda items at an open meeting of a governmental body, they could only observe.
Here are some key take-aways from what we’ve learned about this section in the last year:
-The public now has a legal right to speak on items on the agenda at an open meeting.
-This law grants residents the limited authority to address the City Council about agenda items, subject to reasonable rules adopted by the council.
-This law does not grant members of the public the right to speak both before and during the council’s consideration of an agenda item. See Tex. Att’y Gen Op. No. KP-0300 (2020) (“a governmental body may satisfy subsection 551.007(b)’s requirements by holding a single public comment period at the beginning of an open meeting to address all items on the agenda.”)
-The City Council can decide to allow public comment on agenda items at the beginning of a meeting for all agenda items or can allow members of the public to comment as each agenda item is considered.
-The City Council may adopt reasonable rules considering a citizen’s right to speak at an open meeting. The rules may include the following:
- how long a person may address the City Council on an agenda item
- the number of persons who may speak on a particular topic
- the frequency of the comments
- the overall amount of time the council will receive comments from the public.
-The rules must be applied irrespective of particular viewpoints, the City Council may not discriminate against a particular position.
-The City Council may not prohibit public criticism of the City.
-The City can enforce a decorum policy for public speakers, provided it does not completely prohibit criticism of the City.
-The bill author staff has indicated that this law was not meant to apply to a workshop or work session.
Please note that this new law does not change the long-standing practice adopted by many Cities to allow the public to make comments about items not on the agenda. If the City Council allows the public to comment on items not on the agenda, the council can apply reasonable rules to that public comment time. Remember that the council cannot deliberate on any item that is not on the agenda.
Remember, we always recommend that you consult with your City Attorney with any specific questions you may have.
With these in mind, we say Happy First Birthday to Section 551.007 of the Texas Government Code!