Yesterday the Senate passed SB 1108 by a vote of 36-2. The legislation amends the Open Meetings Act to provide statutory authority for public bodies to conduct remote meetings under specific circumstances (view previous blog). Multiple amendments were offered on the senate floor, changing the bill from what was reported out of committee last week.
The S-4 version as passed by the Senate applies retroactively to April 30, 2020. This change is crucial and would deem meetings that took place since April 30th valid as long as the public body complied with requirements laid out in the bill. The change also allows remote meetings to continue until December 31, 2020 for any circumstance.
Additional changes allow members of a public body to meet remotely under the following parameters from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021.
- Military duty (as allowed under current law);
- Medical condition (an illness, injury, disability or other health-related condition substantiated in writing by a medical provider without exposing specific diagnosis or private health information);
- Statewide or local state of emergency declared (and meeting held in person would risk the personal health or safety of members of the public or the public body).
The changes then sunset and revert back to current law, only allowing accommodations for members absent due to active military duty. The sunset provision was added to the bill to address concerns expressed by senate legislators who questioned whether the changes, if permanent, would lead to abuses by local elected boards.
Unfortunately there was a drafting error in the amendment adopted and the date on page 5, line 22 (c) currently reads as January 1, 2021 which creates a conflict with the dates in (b). League staff have verified this was an oversight and should be January 1, 2022. The error will be addressed in a subsequent substitute bill expected to be taken up by the House possibly as early as next Tuesday.
The League urges you to reach out to your State Representative and remind them of the urgency of this legislation! It’s important that it moves as soon as possible to ensure that local units of government can continue to operate safely and effectively, while preserving the highest level of public access, transparency, and participation. Timing is critical as many local units of government have budgets, bonding agreements, economic development projects and permit approvals that now hang in limbo without the clear statutory authority established.
Jennifer Rigterink is a legislative associate for the League handling economic development, land use and municipal services issues. She can be reached at [email protected] or 517-908-0305.