New Requirements on Meetings Held by Pennsylvania Local Governments
July 6, 2021
by Timothy Horstmann and Frank Lavery, III*
A bill recently signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf in the General Assembly will impose new requirements on Pennsylvania municipalities for holding governmental meetings. Senate Bill 554, now Act 65 of 2021, amends the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law to require political subdivisions to make available in advance to the public the proposed agenda for any governmental meeting.
The Sunshine Act, 65 Pa.C.S. §701 et seq., is a Pennsylvania Statute intended to improve transparency in the operations of state and local governmental agencies (including political subdivisions, such as counties, cities, townships, boroughs, and authorities) within the Commonwealth. Prior to the enactment of Act 65, the Sunshine Act required that political subdivisions notify the public of when and where a meeting will be held but does not impose any obligation on the part of political subdivisions to inform the public of the business to be considered at such meeting.
Act 65 mandates that political subdivisions inform the public as to what business will be ‘on the table’ at any given meeting. In short, the new additions to the Act require political subdivisions to make available to the public the agenda for an upcoming meeting.
Specifically, Act 65 amends Section 709 of the Sunshine Act (relating to the giving of public notice) to require every political subdivision do all of the following:
- Post the meeting agenda on the political subdivision’s website at least 24 hours prior to a meeting, which agenda must include a list of each matter that may be considered at the meeting;
- Physically post the agenda at the meeting location, as well as at the principal office of the political subdivision;
- Distribute copies of the agenda to all members of the public in attendance.
These new rules do not apply for conference or work sessions, or executive sessions. Additionally, Act 65 lays out under what circumstances a political subdivision may depart from the agenda and consider other business not previously disclosed to the public in the agenda:
- Emergency Situations: a political subdivision may take official action on any matter relating to a real or potential emergency that involves “a real and present danger to life or property” regardless of whether consideration of the matter was included in an agenda.
- New Situations: a political subdivision may take official action on a matter if it arose or was brought to the attention of the political subdivision within the 24-hour period before the meeting.
- Trivial Situations: a political subdivision may take official action on a matter if it is trivial in nature and does not involve the expenditure of funds or the formation of a contract.
- Additions by Majority Vote: a political subdivision may take official action on a matter if a majority of the governing body formally approves the amendment of the agenda to include the additional matter. The reasons for amending the agenda must be announced at the meeting, and the agenda as so amended must be posted on the political subdivision’s website, and at the principal office location of the subdivision/agency no later than the first business day after the meeting.
Act 65 undoubtedly will increase public awareness as to what specific business will be discussed at any given meeting of a political subdivision or agency. Political subdivisions will have to carefully plan their meeting agendas. The inclusion of the exceptions outlined above will provide needed flexibility to the new mandates, however. Act 65 will take effect 60 days after its signing by the Governor, and municipalities should determine in the interim what changes must be made to their meeting practices to comply with Act 65’s dictates.
*Frank Lavery, III is a Law Clerk with McNees. He is currently a student at the University of Notre Dame Law School and expects to earn his J.D. in May of 2022.
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