Public Meetings and Deadlines in the Age of COVID-19 – Legislative Update
Last week we provided you with information regarding HB 1564 which had passed the House and was headed to the Senate. Since then the contents of HB 1564 relating to the holding of public meetings and timelines applicable to local municipalities have been removed from HB 1564 and inserted into SB 841 and HB 2383. A summary of both Bills follows.
SB 841: Permits taxing districts (Townships, Counties, etc.) by Resolution, to extend the discount date for payment of real estate tax bills up to August 31, 2020. It permits taxing districts, by Resolution, to waive penalties up to December 31, 2020.
It permits, during the disaster emergency, local government meetings to be held via an “authorized telecommunications device” without having a quorum of the members present in a physical location. “Authorized telecommunications device” includes any device that permits, at a minimum, audio communication among individuals.
A quorum can be established through participation by members via an authorized telecommunications device. Physical presence in a meeting place is not required.
Advance notice to the public is required, to the extent practicable. Public notice can be affected via posting notice of each meeting on the Township’s web-site or in an advertisement in a newspaper of general publication, or both. The notice must include the date, time, technology to be used and public participation information. We recommend using as many available means of communicating the meeting information to residents as practicable.
Public participation, to the extent practicable, must be allowed through an authorized telecommunication device, or written comments submitted through physical mail or to an email account.
Plats, plans and other submissions for approval or curative amendments are subject to the following:
a. If received or pending during the Governor’s disaster declaration, the number of days provided to satisfy statutory time limits are suspended and tolled as of the date of the emergency declaration (March 6, 2020) or as of the date received, and resumes 30 days after the effective date of the enactment of the above section.
b. Notice must be provided, in writing, to each applicant subject to this provision that the Township is availing itself of the time extension and the right of the applicant to request a hearing under the provision summarized below.
c. An Applicant, within 30 days of the effective date of this provision, may request a meeting, hearing or proceeding on an application during the period of the disaster emergency. At the discretion of the political subdivision, the governing body can elect to proceed with an application covered by this provision utilizing an approved telecommunications device. If proceeding with the application is authorized, then the person requesting it is deemed to have waived any challenge under applicable law. It is unclear, but the implication is that if someone requests a hearing or other consideration of an application, and it is practicable to do so, proceeding with the application may be required.
These provisions expire when the Disaster Emergency terminates or expires.
HB 2383 contains substantially the same language that was in HB 1564. This Bill has been referred to the House Local Government Committee and has remained there.
With the addition in SB 841 of the ability for the municipality to extend tax deadlines, SB 841 is the most comprehensive and the most likely to continue moving forward. It is expected that any differences among the various bills addressing “virtual” meetings and deadlines will be resolved in conference.
SB 841 was passed in the Senate on April 7th by a vote of 50-0. It must now go to the House for concurrence. We will update you on this Bill as information becomes available.
This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.