When it comes to deciding important issues that may affect the community like land use, public leaders may have to hold a public hearing. Some Florida residents have heard of public hearings and might confuse them with public meetings. The two concepts are closely related, but they are not alike.

Public meetings can be formal or casual in nature, so they may take different forms depending on the topic discussed and the people tasked with leading the meeting. However, if a public body wants to talk about issues of a sensitive nature, they may have to conduct a public hearing.

Public meetings in Florida

The Florida Sunshine Law defines how public meetings work in the state. A public body convenes a meeting of two or more of its members to talk about public policies or other matters of importance. This law applies to state or local public boards or commissions and does not distinguish between boards with elected or appointed members.

Public meetings are very diverse in their forms. As the Florida Attorney General website explains, a public meeting does not require a quorum under law to proceed. Also, a person may audio record a public meeting but the law does not require it. Public bodies are free to make rules to promote order in the meeting, which may include restricting speaking time for individuals, provided these rules are reasonable.

How public hearings work

A public hearing differs from a public meeting in a number of ways. Public meetings generally promote freer discussions of issues and may involve question and answer sessions. However, a public hearing will generally restrict who may speak. Also, the informal nature of some public meetings means that what people say at them may remain private, while testimony given at a public hearing is much more likely to enter the public record.

Generally, public officials use a public hearing to acquire important information on a controversial issue before making policy. Public boards and commissions may prefer a public hearing if they need to acquire testimony from one or more persons or if they need to involve due process.