HB 2805 was passed by the 2023 Oregon Legislature and went into effect on September 23, 2023. The new law prohibits a public body that is subject to Oregon’s Public Meeting Law from conducting a “serial meeting” and gives the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC) authority to enforce the new standard. A “serial meeting” is not defined but includes participation by members of a public body in a group communication over a period of time. The law also defines an affected “deliberation” to include any “discussion or communication that is part of a decision-making process.” This includes all emails, text messages and verbal communication, including those made through an intermediary.
Not all members of a quorum need to participate in the communication at any one time, but if through a series of texts, emails, messaging apps, or conversation a quorum is involved, every individual would be in violation. The Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled that at least many of the types of meetings described in HB 2805 are already prohibited by existing law, but that decision was reversed on technical grounds.
A public body may take actions to rectify a violation by ratifying the action after a complaint is made, within timelines in the law. That correction, however, does not eliminate possible sanctions of the OGEC.
The law also imposes a new training requirement on public officials. Those officials must attend or view an approved training on open meetings at least once during their term of office.
Finally, HB 2805 provides that managers and other employees may be removed from their job if the OGEC finds willful misconduct or intentional disregard for the Oregon Public Meetings Law. We have questions about the constitutionality of this provision, but until challenged in court, it is now part of the law.