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Lakewood's Township Committee has been holding their regular meetings virtually instead of in-person since the onset of the pandemic.

Mayor Ray Coles recently stated that he has come to enjoy holding Township Committee meetings virtually instead of in-person and he would like to continue virtual meetings even after the public health emergency ends.

However, pending legislation that would have permitted the Lakewood Township Committee to continue holding virtual meetings has just stalled as, surprisingly, New Jersey lawmakers yesterday took a stand for transparency in government.

Under current law, remote meetings, voting, and public comment are only permitted during a state of emergency, public health emergency, or state of local disaster emergency.

The Senate, Referred to Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee was scheduled yesterday to discuss a bill (S-2603) that removes that restriction and would permit a public body to conduct a meeting and public business, cause a meeting to be open to the public, vote, and receive public comment by means of communication or other electronic equipment.

“Public body” is defined under the “Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act” to be a commission, authority, board, council, committee, or any other group of two or more persons organized under the laws of this State, and collectively empowered as a voting body to perform a public governmental function affecting the rights, duties, obligations, privileges, benefits, or other legal relations of any person, or collectively authorized to spend public funds including the Legislature, but does not mean or include the judicial branch of the government, any grand or petit jury, any parole board or any agency or body acting in a parole capacity, the State Commission of Investigation, the Apportionment Commission established under Article IV, Section III, of the Constitution, or any political party committee organized under Title 19 of the Revised Statutes.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Bob Smith and co-sponsored by Senator Diegnan.

A twin bill was introduced in the Assembly (A4119) and it awaits consideration by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee. It is primarily sponsored by Assembly Members Herb Conaway, Angela McKnight and Shanique Speight.

Due to the upcoming Holiday weekend, no legislative sessions past yesterday have yet been scheduled so it is unclear yet if and when, this proposal will be brought back up for discussion.

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