After more than a year of experimentation with electronic meetings, local legislative bodies have begun formalizing the requirements for members to be able to participate remotely.

During Tuesday’s regular Wabash County Board of Commissioners meeting, the members voted unanimously to institute their policy on the subject.

Wabash County auditor Marcie Shepherd presented the item to the board while noting the fact that the meeting itself was being broadcast remotely, over Zoom.

“We’re using this and it’s working properly,” she said, laughing.

The resolution cites House Enrolled Act 1437, which was authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, and signed into law April 20 by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

HEA 1437 allows a member of a governing body of a political subdivision to participate in a meeting electronically, as long as they adopt a written policy establishing procedures for electronic participation, require the technology to permit simultaneous communication between members and the public to attend and observe the proceedings, require at least 50 percent of the members to be physically present at the meeting site, allow a member participating electronically to be counted for quorum purposes and provide that a member participating electronically may participate in a final action taken by the governing body only if the member can be seen and heard.

The law also exempts governing bodies of state agencies that have a majority of members with disabilities from certain attendance requirements, provides that if a statute requires a manual signature for attesting or authenticating an obligation issued by certain state and local public entities, an electronic signature has the same force and effect as a manual signature, and adds provisions applicable to state and local public agencies when a state or local disaster emergency is declared.

According to the local resolution, any member may participate in a meeting by any electronic means of communication that allows all participating members of the governing body to simultaneously communicate with each other; and allows the public to simultaneously attend and observe the meeting, except for meetings held in executive session.

“A member who participates by an electronic means of communication shall be considered present for purposes of establishing a quorum; and may participate in final action only if the member can be seen and heard,” stated the resolution. “All votes taken during a meeting at which at least one member participates by an electronic means of communication must be taken by roll call vote.”

Following the new state law, at least 50 percent of the members must be physically present at a meeting at which a member will participate through electronic communication.

“Not more than 50 percent of the members may participate by an electronic means of communication at that same meeting,” stated the resolution. “A member may not attend more than 50 percent of the meetings in a calendar year by an electronic means of communication unless the member’s electronic participation is due to military service, illness or other medical condition, death of a relative or an emergency involving actual or threatened injury to persons or property.”

The resolution states that a member may attend two consecutive meetings by electronic communication.

“A member must attend in person at least one meeting between sets of meetings that the member attends by electronic communication,” except for the listed exceptions, stated the resolution.

The resolution states the minutes of a meeting at which any member participates by electronic means of communication must identify each member who was physically present at the meeting, participated in the meeting by electronic means of communication and was absent; and identify the electronic means of communication by which members participated in the meeting and members of the public attended and observed the meeting if the meeting was not an executive session.

The resolution states no member of the board may participate using electronic communication in a meeting at which the board may take final action to adopt a budget, make a reduction in personnel, initiate a referendum, impose or increase a fee, impose or increase a penalty, exercise the power of eminent domain or establish, impose, raise or renew a tax.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.