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New Montana law requires government boards to record public meetings

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Posted at 12:57 AM, Jul 03, 2024

BILLINGS - A new law went into effect on July 1, requiring government boards to record public meetings by video or audio.

The goal is to encourage public participation and provide greater transparency.

House Bill 890 drew some opposition at the state legislature last year, but it looks like boards around Montana have found reasonably priced equipment and are ready to post those meetings online.

Some boards such as the Yellowstone County Commission have already been posting recordings of regular meetings and discussions.

“It's a right for everybody to be able to see what happened,” said Yellowstone County Commissioner Don Jones. “And you know what we were talking about and our thought process.”

Jones supports the idea of HB 890 which states in its title that it provides for increased transparency and accountability.

“Our constitution has made it very clear that the Sunshine Laws need to be there to let the public have that opportunity, see what we're doing,” Jones said.

The Montana Association of Counties (MACO) wanted the requirement to be optional.

“We want to follow the law,” said Commissioner Ross Butcher of Fergus County. “We want to do it appropriately. But when it's ambiguous, that's difficult.

Butcher is the MACO president and says it's not clear what constitutes a meeting.

As chair in Fergus County, he says commissioners have figured out what meetings to record.

“I do think it's easy enough to just look at it and say, listen, any meeting that you're going to agenda-dize and follow the steps of an open meeting, then you probably should record it,” Butcher said.

The law applies to the Board of Investments, the public employees retirement board, teachers retirement board, the Board of Regents, county commissions, city councils, school boards, and county boards of health.

“Concern about the level of distrust and the lack of civility in our public discourse, first off,” said Rep. Brad Barker, R-Carbon County. “Second thing is it supports Montana’s constitutional right to know. And the third is we have the technological means.”

The Canyon Creek school board and the County Water Board of Billings Heights board are among those ready to record meetings.

“I don't think any of us have a problem with transparency,” Butcher said. “I think it's a good thing.”

“It should be beneficial if people want to get engaged and I encourage everybody to get engaged in their local government,” Jones said.