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West Virginia strengthens open government efforts

May 9, 2013

In West Virginia, an emergency meeting of officials was exempt from open and transparent government laws, but the nature of what constitutes an emergency was never well defined. This allowed local and state councils to avoid the public eye whenever they so wished by calling "emergency" sessions to discuss normal topics. However, according to the Charleston Gazette, this loophole was recently closed when the state passed bill HB2747 - establishing exact circumstances in which an emergency meeting can be called.

"In the event of any emergency requiring immediate official action, any governing body of the executive branch of the state may file an emergency meeting notice at any time prior to the meeting," the previous law stated. However the new legislation requires emergency meetings to fit one of the follow criteria: a threat to public safety, threat to public or personal property or the potential for financial loss to a public agency. Only meetings falling into one of these three categories can be called under an emergency session and, therefore, be exempt from the public notification requirement. In West Virginia, the public must be made aware of government meetings at least five days in advance.

At the same time, West Virginia passed another bill to improve transparency and open government, HB2542, eliminating a requirement that the State Register be printed and published by the Secretary of State's office. The State Register had only 30 paid subscribers.

These efforts will greatly bolster West Virginia's open government efforts. According to the CalPIRG Following the Money 2013 report, the state received a "C" grade for overall transparency and public access to budgetary information. While in the top 50 percent of states, this still leaves significant improvement for open government adherence. Implementing new legislation is a n excellent first step, but there are many ways for town, county and state governments to further their transparency efforts.

By investing in high-quality legislative management solutions from IQM2, local offices can enhance the organization and public access to government information. Integration of agenda management software can help agencies improve awareness of meeting schedules and discussed topics, and reduce overall costs for offices as well by simplifying the announcement and organization processes. With the right approach, any state can improve its transparency efforts in a productive and cost-effective way.