Friday, October 21, 2005

Atty General Op: Vets' panel can close its hearings; Judicial functions exempt from Neb. Open Meetings law WORLD-HERALD Nebraska open meetings law does not apply to the Nebraska Veterans' Advisory Commission when it considers appeals from veterans who have been turned down for assistance from the Nebraska Veterans" Aid fund, the Attorney General's Office said Thursday.Assistant Attorney General Leslie Donley said the commission is acting in a judicial capacity, not as a policy-maker, when it considers the appeals. Bodies conducting judicial proceedings are exempted from the open meetings law. Nebraska Veterans Affairs Director John Hilgert said he sought the attorney general's opinion after an observer questioned whether the appeals proceedings were being improperly closed to the public. The open meetings law declares that "the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret." It requires advance notice and agendas for meetings, and the public must be allowed to attend and to speak, subject to reasonable rules and regulations. The law also forbids public bodies from holding closed sessions except under limited circumstances, such as discussing personnel matters, litigation and criminal investigations. A public body must vote before going into closed session, and it cannot vote on a matter while in closed session. Hilgert said the veterans' appeals are rare - there have been four during his four years with the Department of Veterans' Affairs. He said he was concerned about appeals conducted in public because they often require veterans to give potentially embarrassing information about their financial status, medical conditions and family obligations. Hilgert said veterans would be allowed to invite people to attend the hearings, but the commission won't publish notice to those who have nothing to do with the case.

No comments: