In Dedham, participants in remote meetings around the community's master planning process included parents streaming the proceedings while making dinner and residents of senior housing developments who were reluctant to make the drive to town hall at night.
"We cannot and should not go back to the days of having to be in the room to participate in government," Dedham Select Board member Sarah McDonald told lawmakers weighing extensions pandemic-era remote meeting policies.
With the June 15 end of the COVID-19 state of emergency looming, the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee convened by videoconference for a hearing on bills addressing the prospects for similarly held virtual meetings.
An emergency order from Gov. Charlie Baker allowed remote public meetings during the state of emergency, one of of an array of pandemic policies that lawmakers must decide if they wish to let lapse, extend in the short-term or keep permanently.
Bills before the committee deal with remote participation by members of public bodies and citizens' to access meetings through phone and internet. Supporters said that the ability to join or follow government processes remotely opens up participation to those who would otherwise face barriers like transportation, work schedules, and child care.
Speaking in favor of bills (H 3224, S 2037) that would change the state's open meeting law to allow for virtual meetings of appointed statewide bodies, Reps. Maria Robinson and Tricia Farley-Bouvier said there are people from Western Massachusetts and the Outer Cape who are interested in serving on state commissions but find regular travel into Boston prohibitive. Domb said a two-hour evening meeting in Boston can add up to an eight- to 10-hour commitment for someone from the western part of the state.