Media Law Handbook

Open Meetings


10. Conclusion
8. How is the Open Meetings Law enforced?

9. What is the Federal Government in the Sunshine Act?

The federal government also has an open meetings law, found at 5 U.S.C. § 552b. In structure it is similar to the N.C. law, but its coverage is more narrow.

The federal statute applies only to federal agencies that are headed by “collegial bodies”; a majority of the members of such bodies must have been appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Thus the law does not apply to Cabinet departments or other federal agencies headed by single officials. Nor does it apply to state or local government agencies that receive federal funds or that contract with the federal government. It applies primarily to federal regulatory agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The federal statute applies only to relatively formal meetings of the covered agencies, meetings involving deliberations by that number of agency officials required to take agency action when those deliberations “determine or result in the joint conduct or disposition of official agency business.” Many of the informal gatherings that constitute official meetings under the N.C. law would not be agency meetings under the federal law.

The federal statute permits closed sessions on a variety of subjects. The list is quite different from the N.C. list, reflecting the differences in the kinds of business coming before federal, as opposed to state and local, boards. Among the subjects that may be considered and acted upon in closed session are internal personnel rules and practices, personal information the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of privacy and law enforcement investigations.

The federal statute requires a covered agency to give one week’s public notice of any meeting subject to the statute, setting out the time, place, subject matter and whether it will be open or closed. Meetings can be called on shorter notice if necessary. These notices are published in the Federal Register.

The federal courts are authorized to enforce the federal statute by injunction, but they are not authorized to invalidate actions simply because the statute was violated.

10. Conclusion
8. How is the Open Meetings Law enforced?

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