COVID-19: Governor activates Indiana National Guard, alters public meeting requirements; Bloomington city council to meet

In a late Tuesday afternoon press release, Indiana’s governor has added to the orders he announced on Monday to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency.

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New in the executive order, compared to Monday’s announcement, is the activation of the Indiana National Guard “as needed, to address and assist in this public health emergency.”

Also new in Tuesday’s executive order is the temporary loosening, and in some cases tightening, of certain requirements of Indiana’s Open Door Law for public meetings.

As far as tighter restrictions, the governor’s order says meetings of governmental agencies should be limited “to only essential matters critical to the operations of the governmental agency.”

In their meetings, governmental agencies are also supposed to adhere to Center for Disease Control guidelines on large gatherings, which limit group sizes to 50 or fewer, and require six feet of separation between people.

The requirement that public officials vote only in person has been lifted for the duration of the emergency. As long as one member of a body is physically present, the others can participate electronically, according to the governor’s order.

The ODL ordinarily requires physical posting of notice at the location where meetings are to be held. Under the governor’s order, notices for meetings can be posted solely by electronic means.

Another consequence of the order for the duration of the emergency is the waiver of the  requirement that a city council meet at least once a month.

On Tuesday, Bloomington’s city council posted electronic notice of a Thursday (March 19) work session at 4 p.m. in city hall.

When reached by The Square Beacon, city council president Steve Volan said the work session fit the description of “essential matters” and would focus on everything related to COVID-19 and the city’s response to the pandemic.

The section of the governor’s order on public meetings reads as follows:

5. Public Meetings/Open Door Laws

Public meetings conducted pursuant to Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5 et seq. should be limited
to only essential matters critical to the operations of the governmental agency or entity for the duration of this public health emergency;

All specific statutory deadlines requiring a governing body to meet during the public
health emergency are suspended for the duration of the emergency insofar as
cancellations do not disrupt essential government decisions or services or when
meetings are otherwise required by federal law;

All governing bodies of public agencies may suspend the requirement of explicitly
adopting a policy for electronic participation and reduce the number of members
required to be physically present to one member only (See Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5-
3.6(c), (f), (g) & (h)).

Entities should also adhere to the CDC guidance on gatherings and make efforts to allow the public to participate electronically, if feasible. All other provisions of Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5 et seq. remain in effect;

All governing bodies of public agencies may post notices and agendas for meetings
solely by electronic means for the duration of this public health emergency; and
Any political subdivision or entity subject to the provisions of Ind. Code § 5-14-1.5- 3.5 may comply with the provisions of section 3.6 as modified by this Order in conducting public meetings for the duration of this public health emergency.