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For many municipalities, authorities and public agencies, the Sunshine Act (65 P.S. 701 et seq) (the “Act”) can be seen as one of the more labor intensive parts of governing. While it provides a means by which the public can readily and easily review decisions, actions and governance by a public agency, the Act places a burden on the governing body to follow rules which can be time consuming and onerous. Unfortunately, those regulations are becoming more stringent at the end of the month. On June 30, 2021, Governor Wolf signed an amended version of the Act which will have a direct impact on how public agencies publish their meeting agendas and whether an item not on the agenda may be voted upon. These amendments to the Act go into effect on August 31, 2021, so this will be applicable for all September meetings in municipalities. Read on to learn about changes to the Sunshine Act in PA.
First, the meeting agenda must be publicly available twenty-four (24) hours in advance of the meeting. In order to comply with this requirement, the agenda must be posted:
Second, the agenda itself must now contain a list of specific items that the public agency will, or may be, deliberating or taking an action on at that meeting. While this may not sound more burdensome for some public agencies that already have detailed agendas, there is an additional problem. If an item is not on the agenda, no action may be taken on that item.
However, the legislature did leave three (3) exceptions to this rule:
There is an additional means by which a public agency can add an agenda item. If the majority of the public agency votes in the affirmative, an item may be added to the agenda via amendment and official action may be taken. However, once this is done, the public agency is under an obligation to record such vote in the minutes, along with the reasoning of the additional agenda item and must be included in the record.
Subsequently, the public agency is also obligated to release or post online, and at the agency’s office, the modified agenda no later than the next business day after the meeting. This portion of the Act, does appear to allow for significant leeway for the public agency, provided the governing body of the public agency is willing to vote to add items at their discretion.
It is important to note that these amendments do not change who is subject to the Act. If you were previously subject to the Act, you will have to comply with these new rules. Moreover, this amendment does not apply to any matter in executive session or working sessions. The language of the Act does indicate that if a committee meeting uses an agenda, they will be subject to the amendments to the Act.
The attorneys of Gross McGinley, LLP are here to help your municipality or public agency in any way we can. Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us.
Attorneys Jason A. Ulrich, John F. “Jack” Gross and J. Jackson Eaton, III are members of the firm’s Municipal Law team, each serving as Solicitor to local governments and advising on a wide array of municipal matters.