This is a season of extraordinary firsts, not least in the way that public business is being conducted remotely.
That is necessary as purely a short-term expedient to deal with the spread of the coronavirus. It should not become a precedent for politicians and lawyers to avoid dealing openly with public issues, in front of the people who are affected by the political process.
The issues being argued, in the case of the courts, or debated, in the case of other public bodies, are to some extent not as high-profile. After all, society in general is focused on the pandemic. And clearly business has to go on, including legal matters and decisions on the myriad approvals and issues that typically come before public bodies.
But there are a lot of firsts.
The United States Supreme Court heard arguments Monday by telephone, with the audio heard live. Lawyers’ arguments before the court are typically public but not televised. The case was a relatively minor issue, but on the court’s docket later are significant cases, such as whether President Donald Trump can shield his tax returns or other financial records from scrutiny.
Commendably, the Louisiana Supreme Court has livestreamed its hearings since 2007, but social distancing means that June 8-9, it will hear arguments via teleconference.
The Legislature started meeting Monday in the restricted environs of the State Capitol trying to abide by social distancing, but other bodies are also changing their meetings.
The board governing East Baton Rouge Parish schools will interview candidates for a new superintendent to lead the second-largest system in the state. That’s a decision that will have implications for years ahead for students and parents.
To change its long tradition of public interviews — although the web interviews will be released at the end of the week — is still a significant departure.
We see these innovations as temporary. The state has a robust Open Meetings Law that protects the rights of Louisiana residents to see and hear what public bodies are doing. That's not just a matter of viewing a screen, but watching what happens on the sidelines is critical to knowing what is happening on the playing field.
Over many years, political bodies have tried to cheat on open meetings. In many cases, this newspaper has had to go to courts to enforce the rights of the public to transparent government. This year’s departures from physical meetings that the public can go to and watch are not the basis for open meetings going forward after the coronavirus is a memory.