Virtual public meetings may be permanent post-pandemic for Pa. lawmakers

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Coronavirus was deadly and disastrous for Pennsylvania, but did any good come from the crisis? That’s the question a bipartisan, bicameral committee posed on Monday to local governments.

Call it accentuating the positive, this hearing asked local governments what went well during an otherwise disastrous pandemic.

“Virtual meetings is what you heard over and over again,” David Greene with the local government commission said. He also says virtual public meetings increased public input. “More people could tune in through their computers or phones or Facebook or youtube and participate in local government.”

During the pandemic, lawmakers gave local governments the power, temporarily to conduct virtual meetings. They’ll now wrestle with how it’ll work moving forward. “Remote, virtual hearings are probably here in some respects but as I pointed out in my line of questioning I think we still need to maintain those public meetings that the public physically has access to that’s an important part of democracy,” Representative Robert Freeman (D-Northampton) said.

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So a hybrid model is likely. All virtual doesn’t work for State Representative Jerry Knowles (R-Berks, Carbon). He says his constituents want him in Harrisburg and available in person. “Go on the floor and participate and debate and be active and it’s just a different feeling. Dennis, I want to, as soon as it’s safe to do so, let’s go back to the old days,” Rep. Knowles said.

All the lawmakers talked about how nice it was to have such civil discourse and a positive vibe. It was nice while it lasted and it won’t last long because a fight over masking is coming and coming soon.

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