February 7, 2007
APPLICATION OF FOIA TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY WORKSHOPS
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked for a summary of the General Assembly's rules regarding workshops. Specifically, you want to know if a legislative committee is required to keep notes of any workshop it has to study issues facing the committee.
The General Assembly does not have any rules specifically governing workshops. However, the “workshop” might meet the definition of a “meeting” under the Freedom of Information Act, depending on who conducts it, its purpose, and its attendees. If the workshop is a “meeting”, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) applies with respect to notice, minutes, and public access. If it is not a meeting, there is no requirement for the people conducting it to keep notes.
Under FOIA, public agencies must record (1) votes taken at a meeting and make them publicly available within 48 hours after the meeting and (2) minutes of the meeting and make them available within seven days after the meeting. FOIA creates an exception to its notice and agenda, but not its votes and minute, requirements for meetings held by the General Assembly. The General Assembly must adopt notice and agenda requirements as part of its joint rules.
Under the current Joint Rules, the notice requirement varies depending on the type of meeting. Meeting agendas must be provided in advance of each meeting.
FOIA DEFINITION OF MEETING AND ITS APPLICATION
For purposes of FOIA, a “meeting” is, in pertinent part:
...any hearing or other proceeding of a public
agency, any convening or assembly of a quorum of a
multimember public agency...to discuss or act upon a
matter over which the public agency has supervision,
control, jurisdiction or advisory power (CGS § 1-200 (2)).
Since at least the mid 1970's, the Freedom of Information Commission has held that a workshop is a “meeting” if it is (1) held by a public agency to discuss any matter over which the agency has jurisdiction and (2) attended by a quorum of agency's members. This means, any public agency holding such a workshop is subject to FOIA's requirements to provide notice of the workshop's date and time, maintain a record of any action taken there, and open the workshop to the public. The General Assembly is a public agency as that term is used in FOIA (CGS § 1-200 (1) (A)); thus a workshop held by a legislative committee is a meeting covered by the act if it meets the criteria stated above.
In the latest freedom of information case concerning workshops, the commission held that a budget workshop conducted by the Town of Clinton's Board of Finance was a meeting. The commission based its decision on the fact that the board is a public agency, the workshop was held so that the Clinton Board of Education could present its budgetary needs, and five of the six full members on a board of finance attended the workshop (Carbone v. Board of Finance, Town of Clinton (FIC 2001-164)).
GENERAL ASSEMBLY'S RULES ON MEETING NOTICES AND AGENDAS
With one exception, notice of meetings held when the General Assembly is in session must be given to the clerk of each house at least one day in advance of the meeting and, when practicable, to the Legislative Bulletin clerks for inclusion in the next Legislative Bulletin. Committee clerks must post a notice of each meeting in a conspicuous place in or near their committee offices. The exception is for meetings approved by committee chairmen that are announced on the floor of the House or Senate during a session (JR 5 (f) and (g)).
Chairmen-approved meeting agendas must be made available at least one day before the meeting, except agendas for meetings announced during a session must be available at any time before the meeting (JR 5 (h)).
Notice of place, time, and subject matter of each public hearing held when the General Assembly is in session must be published in the Legislative Bulletin at least five calendar days before the hearing (JR 6 (b)).