69 Op. Att'y Gen. 251 (1980)
 
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OPINION NO. OAG 67-80,

Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions

4 December 1980

LEE SHERMAN DREYFUS, Governor
State of Wisconsin

Open Meeting; State governmental bodies are
required to hold meetings in places which are
accessible, without assistance, to persons
with disabilities. Local governmental bodies
are required to hold meetings in places which
are accessible with or without assistance to
persons with disabilities.

At the request of the Governor's Committee
for People with Disabilities you ask my
opinion on three questions which relate to
the open meetings law.

1.   Does Section 19.81, Wisconsin Statutes,
     mean that governmental bodies including
     local governmental bodies are limited in
     their discretion in deciding whether to
     conduct the meetings in places that are
     physically accessible to persons with
     disabilities?

 
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The answer is yes.

Section 19.81(2), Stats., provides:

     To implement and ensure the public
     policy herein expressed, all meetings of
     all state and local governmental bodies
     shall be publicly held in places
     reasonably accessible to members of the
     public and shall be open to all citizens
     at all times unless otherwise expressly
     provided by law.

The statute is applicable to both state and
local governmental bodies and to meeting
places for open as well as closed sessions.

A meeting cannot be initially convened
in closed session.

An open session must precede a closed session
for the purposes of taking a vote and making
announcement as required by Section 19.85(1),
Stats., even though notice of the
contemplated closed session has been given
pursuant to Section 19.84(2), Stats.

See Section 19.83, Stats.

The words in Section 19.81(2), Stats.,

     "shall be publicly held in
      places reasonably accessible
      to members of the public"

when read in conjunction with the words

     "open to all citizens at all
      times unless otherwise
      expressly provided by law"

mean that meeting places must be reasonably
accessible to all citizens, including
those with disabilities.

A local governmental body has greater leeway
in the selection of a meeting place than
does a state governmental body.

The Legislature has defined what standards
are applicable to state governmental bodies.

Sections 19.82(3) and 101.13(1), Stats.,
provide:

19.82(3)

     "Open session" means a meeting which is
     held in a place reasonably accessible
     to members of the public and open
     to all citizens at all times.

In the case of a state governmental body, it
means a meeting which is held in a building
and room thereof which enables access by
persons with functional limitations, as
defined in Section 101.13(1).

101.13(1)

     In this section, "access" means the
     physical characteristics of a place
     which allow persons with functional
     limitations caused by impairments of
     sight, hearing, coordination or
     perception or persons with
     semiambulatory or nonambulatory
     disabilities to enter, circulate
     within and leave a place of employment
     or public building and to use the public
     toilet facilities and passenger
     elevators in the place of employment
     or public building without assistance.

 
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In my opinion local governmental bodies
can utilize meeting places reasonably
accessible, with assistance, to
persons with disabilities.

2.   If a reasonable opportunity exists to
     conduct such meetings in accessible
     rooms of comparable size, is there
     discretion to choose a non-accessible
     location on the basis of convenience
     (i.e. immediate access to records
     or files) or tradition?

The answer is no.

The statutory provisions set forth above
indicate a legislative intent that reasonable
access to all members of the public is to be
accorded a higher priority than access of
members to records and files or tradition.

3.   If an accessible room for such meeting
     is not available and a person with
     physical limitations expresses a desire
     to attend, does the governmental body
     have a duty to make special arrangements
     to enable the person to attend?

As noted above, state governmental bodies
must schedule meetings for and meet in a
building and room which enables access by
persons with functional limitations as
defined in Section 101.13(1), Stats.

That provision would be violated if a meeting
were held in a building or room which did not
meet the standards set forth in Section
101.13(1), Stats., even if assistance
were given to a disabled person.

Local governmental bodies should attempt to
schedule and hold meetings in buildings
and rooms which meet the standards set
forth in Section 101.13(1), Stats.

Where a local governmental body is involved,
a place which would not qualify under Section
101.13(1), Stats., might still be reasonably
accessible to persons with disabilities
if some assistance were furnished
to such persons.

The governmental body would have a duty to
furnish reasonable assistance to make the
building and room reasonably accessible,
or in the alternative, would have to adjourn
the meeting until a reasonably accessible
meeting place were available.

You also request my opinion on five questions
which relate to obligations of counties to
deliver services to mentally and physically
disabled persons in a county other than that
of residence and under various, and sometimes
disputed, residency conditions.

The underlying theme of the five questions is
a delineation of state versus county
responsibility for the individuals in
the various hypothetical situations.

 
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It would be improper for me to offer an
opinion on these five questions at this
time since these matters are presently
in litigation in which our office is
serving as counsel for state interests.

We will respond to the five questions when
the litigation is completed if the litigation
does not answer the questions.

BCL:RJV
 
 
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