Sunshine Week: A review of AB 257

Editor's note: In honor of Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information, the Nevada Policy Research Institute is going to be examining bills in the Nevada Legislature that would impact the state's open-meeting law, public-record requests or other transparency issues. Sunshine Week is a national effort to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Assembly Bill 257, while short and simple, would have a tremendous impact on the public's ability to participate effectively in government. If passed, this bill would allow the public to comment on each agenda action item as a public body addresses it and before a vote is taken. Currently, public bodies are required to hold only one public-comment period. That period can - and often does - come after voting has taken place.

Currently, the Clark County School District utilizes the public-comment process proposed by AB 257. School board President Carolyn Edwards, who spearheaded CCSD's change in format, welcomes the idea of AB 257. She says that while there were some issues in the beginning, the process has made for better board decisions: "I wouldn't want to go back because I think we make good decisions..." And while the CCSD school board takes public input on non-action items, which is not proposed under AB 257, Edwards thinks comment on these items is important as well because they may very well become action items later. "It helps you think about the needs and concerns," she said.

AB 257 would also require a public-comment period on non-agenda matters to come just before adjournment. This would allow the public to know exactly when general comments will be heard. Many times, public bodies hold general comments during the middle of a meeting, after all votes are taken, or the chair, at his or her prerogative, will simply move public comments during the meeting. Often those wishing to speak have missed their opportunity because the meeting moved along quicker than expected or the chair moved the comment period. By placing the item at the end of the meeting, individuals will know exactly when comments will be taken and can plan accordingly.

Finally, this bill would make the public-input process uniform across all public bodies, allowing the public to learn one set of procedures and utilize them effectively across the state. Many times a public speaker, who is used to the procedure of one committee, will be confused about what is expected, because currently, each entity has its own way of taking public comment.

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