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The Joint Budget Committee on Thursday approved a proposal to change the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to allow cities and counties to hold open public meetings through electronic means if the governor declares a disaster emergency.

The committee voted to add this amendment proposed by Rep. Lanny Fite, R-Benton, to House Bill 1082, an appropriation for the Department of Finance and Administration in the coming fiscal year.

Electronic means would include by telephone, videoconference or video broadcast. Notices of the meetings would note that the public also could "attend" by the same electronic means.

The meeting would be recorded in the format in which it is conducted. Public entities would be required to maintain the recordings for at least one year.

The physical presence by either a member of the public or the public body would not be required under this proposal.

The proposed law would expire Dec. 31, 2020, absent an emergency declaration by the governor.

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