When must the public be provided opportunities to learn about and comment on proposed policies?
Public participation requirements in the development of policies, including policies in the four-year State Plans, the two-year State Plan modifications, and State Plan amendments that may be submitted off-cycle, can be found in the VR programs regulations in 34 C.F.R. § 361.10(c) and § 361.20. In addition, requirements for providing the public with opportunities for comment on and input into a WIOA unified State Plan can be found in 34 C.F.R. § 361.130(d), while such requirements for a WIOA combined State Plan can be found in 34 C.F.R. § 361.143(c).
Before the adoption of any substantive policies or procedures governing the provision of VR services under the State Plan, consistent with 34 C.F.R. § 361.20(a), public meetings must be conducted throughout the State to provide the public, including individuals with disabilities, an opportunity to comment on the policies or procedures. Substantive changes to the policies or procedures governing the provision of VR services that would require the conduct of public meetings are those that directly impact the nature and scope of the services provided to individuals with disabilities, the manner in which individuals interact with the VR agency, or matters related to the delivery of VR services.
What Are Some Examples of Substantive policy Changes requiring public meetings?
Examples of substantive changes include, but are not limited to—
- Any changes to policies or procedures that fundamentally alter the rights and responsibilities of individuals with disabilities in the VR process;
- Organizational changes to the designated state agency (DSA) or designated state unit (DSU) that would likely affect the manner in which services are delivered;
- Any changes that affect the nature and scope of VR services provided by the DSA or DSU;
- Changes in formal or informal dispute procedures;
- The adoption or amendment of policies instituting an order of selection (e.g., proposing to implement an order of selection where none existed or proposing to close one or more categories that were previously open); and
- Changes to policies and procedures regarding the financial participation of eligible individuals in the cost of services.
What are some examples of changes that do not require public meetings?
By contrast, non-substantive changes (e.g., administrative changes) that would not require the need for public meetings include:
- Internal procedures that do not directly affect individuals receiving VR services, such as payment processing or personnel procedures;
- Changes to the case management system that only affect VR personnel;
- Changes in indirect cost allocations, internal fiscal review procedures, or routine reporting requirements;
- Minor revisions to VR procedures or policies to correct production errors, such as typographical and grammatical mistakes; and
- Changes to contract procedures that do not affect the delivery of VR services.
What public notice requirements apply to VR agencies before holding a public meeting?
Before conducting public meetings on substantive policy changes, appropriate and sufficient notice must be provided following state law, as required by 34 C.F.R. § 361.20(b). In the absence of State law governing public meetings, procedures for providing appropriate and sufficient notice to the public must be developed by the VR agency in consultation with the State Rehabilitation Council.
Further, per 34 C.F.R. § 361.20(e), the VR agency must provide to the public, through appropriate modes of communication, notices of the public meetings, any materials furnished prior to or during the public meetings, and the policies and procedures governing the provision of VR services. In other words, materials should be made available prior to or during the meeting in a variety of alternate formats for individuals who are blind or visually impaired (e.g., braille, large print, provided on-line or via email) and in order to meet the communication needs of individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, sign language interpreters, CART, and/or assistive listening devices) should be provided.
Must all public meetings be conducted in person?
The format for public meetings (e.g., whether they must be conducted in person or whether they can be conducted virtually) may be included in State law. There is no Federal requirement that the public meetings be held in person. If VR agencies are not able to conduct public meetings across the State due to “shelter in place” and social distancing requirements, as occurred early in the COVID-19 pandemic, VR agencies may use virtual public meetings consistent with applicable State meeting laws and regulations. A review of question 12 in the FAQ-21-01 that RSA issued on October 16, 2020, may be helpful here. If State law continues to permit the use of virtual meetings even after the pandemic abates, then the VR agency may continue to make use of such virtual means to conduct its public meetings.