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Fully Virtual Meetings by Government Entities No Longer Permitted

access_time Posted on: June 21st, 2021

Pennsylvania COVID-19 Emergency Disaster Declaration Officially Ended June 16, 2021

The passing of Act 15 of 2020 in April 2020 has allowed local governments to conduct public meetings virtually during the Governor’s COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration. Due to the recent certification of the election results, in which the ballot questions effectively amended the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the passing of House Resolution 106, the Governor’s COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration officially ended as of June 16, 2021. 

It is important to note that Act 21 of 2021, signed on June 11, 2021, which extended until September 30, 2021, many of the suspensions to regulatory statutes and orders, rules, or regulations put in place as part of the COVID-19 disaster declaration, does not affect Act 15 of 2020. This is because Act 15 of 2020 was an act of the legislature, and therefore not extended by Act 21 of 2021. 

Fully virtual meetings are no longer permitted by law.

Municipalities and other local government entities will now need to go back to their meeting procedures before the COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration, unless the legislature amends Act 15 of 2020 or takes other action that allows for the return of public meetings in a fully virtual setting.

Meeting procedure requirements prior to the disaster declaration are provided for in most cases by each local government code. As a result, some local government bodies are allowed to conduct hybrid meetings while others are not. For a hybrid meeting, there must be a physical meeting location and there may be a virtual participation option, this will allow the public and local government officials to participate either in-person or virtually. As a reminder, the Sunshine Act requires a physical meeting location for public participation, but it also permits virtual participation by local government officials. 

Borough councils are prohibited from holding hybrid meetings because the Borough Code requires an in-person quorum of the borough council to conduct business. However, many others, namely: second class townships; planning commissions; zoning hearing boards; and municipal authorities do not have a similar in-person quorum requirement in their respective local government code and as a result, they must look to their own rules and procedures to determine if they must return to in-person meetings or if hybrid meetings are permissible.  Given the complexities involved, local government bodies who have been holding meetings in a fully virtual setting should check with their solicitor to determine if the return of fully in-person meetings is required and how to properly give public notice of this change.

If you have questions about how the end of the Governor’s COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration affects the local government body you serve contact your CGA Attorney or Attorney Beth Kern.

Beth Kern, Esquire

Attorney

Beth provides legal services to Municipal, Business, Litigation, and Labor and Employment Law clients. Beth has over twelve years of professional experience. Most recently she spent nearly eight years at Flagger Force®, a rapidly growing multi-state traffic control company, as a Human Resource professional.

Beth uses her business acumen and experience in human resource management to gain insight into partnering with leaders and teams to develop organizational strategies. 

Beth may be reached directly at (717) 848-4900, Ext. 171 or by email: bkern@cgalaw.com.

Attorney Beth Kern Bio