Public Comment Changes Coming for Nebraskans, Public Bodies

July 10, 2024

Rembolt Ludtke Public Entities and Government Practice Group

Kurth Brashear, Attorney

Katelyn Miller, Summer Associate

Thomas Jefferson once remarked, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences of attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.” The Nebraska Legislature may have had this sentiment in mind when it adopted LB 43, which includes amendments to the Open Meetings Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 84-1407 – 84-1414, governing public comment.  Going into effect on July 19, 2024, public bodies will now need to provide an opportunity for public comment at every meeting.

Historically, public bodies across Nebraska take a variety of approaches to public comment, many of which will no longer comply with the requirements of the amended Open Meetings Act.  LB 43’s sponsors indicated they wanted to provide consistency for the public so that they know they will have an opportunity to be heard if they attend a meeting of a public body.

Specifically, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 84-1412(1) is amended to require that “a public body shall allow all members of the public an opportunity to speak at each meeting” (emphasis added).  This is complemented by an amendment to Subsection (2) of the statute that removed the ability of a public body to restrict “public participation” to only certain meetings.  The legislation’s sponsors wanted to ensure not only the opportunity for members of the public to be heard at each meeting of a public body but the ability for members of the public to be heard on the topics they want to raise to public officials.

Current practices that will no longer be compliant with the Open Meetings Act after July 19, 2024 include:

  • limiting opportunities for public comment to some meetings of a public body;
  • limiting public comments to items on the public body’s meeting agenda; and
  • requiring members of the public to submit requests to address the public body in advance.

To comply with the Open Meetings Act as amended, public bodies should include an “open mic” public comment period at every public meeting.  Public bodies retain some leeway in the administration of the public comment period, including the ability to limit the length of comments and the number of times an individual may comment, unlawful activity during public comment, and prohibiting public commend during a closed session.  Limitations, however, should be individual and content neutral.

As July 19 approaches, public bodies across Nebraska should review their agendas and policies to ensure they are compliant with the new requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

This article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Those requiring legal advice are encouraged to consult with their attorney.