Sen. Mae Flexer called the remote meetings a happy experiment worth keeping. CT-N

The forced experiment of allowing local boards and commissions to meet virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic has been deemed a success worth continuing by the Connecticut General Assembly.

The Senate gave final passage Wednesday to a bill giving local boards and commissions the option to continue meeting remotely, as is currently allowed by an emergency pandemic law that expires on May 1.

“I’m particularly happy we’ve had this experiment forced on us,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, the bill’s lead sponsor as the co-chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

Flexer, a working mother, said the ability to participate remotely as a member of the public or as a public official allows local government to embrace the same flexibility adopted by many businesses as a new normal.

Her happiness was not universally shared. 

Opponents, most of whom say they welcome remote participation as an element of public meetings, objected to the notion that local meetings could move out of town hall entirely and exist only on the web.

“The debate is whether or not we are going to allow local government to stop having in-person meetings,” said Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, the ranking Republican on the GAE committee. “That is the issue.”

The Senate voted 25-11 for passage for House Bill 5269, with two Republicans, Sens. Paul Formica of East Lyme and Kevin Witkos of Canton, joining all 23 Democrats in support.

The House voted 101-40 for passage on April 13, with eight Republicans in support.

Sampson said the ability to participate remotely in meetings has expanded public participation, but it should continue as an adjunct to in-person meetings and not a replacement.

Flexer replied that it would be a local decision made by every board and commission.

“The bill is simply permissive,” she said. “It allows public entities to meet and operate remotely — if they so choose.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.