August 10th, 2021

Changes to the Sunshine Act in PA: What Municipalities Need to Know

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.

Changes to the Sunshine Act in PA: Publishing the Agenda 

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:

  1. At the location of the meeting; and
  2. The principal office/location of the public agency;
  3. If the public body has an existing website, the agenda must be readily available on the website; and
  4. A copy of the agenda must be available for every person who attends the meeting.

Changes to the Sunshine Act in PA: Voting on Agenda Items

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:

  1. Emergency Business – if there is a real or potential emergency, involving a “clear and present danger to life or property,” official action may be taken regardless of public notice status;
  2. Business within Twenty-Four (24) Hours of the Meeting – provided that the (i) matter arises or is brought to the public agency’s attention within the twenty-four (24) hour period prior to the meeting and (ii) the matter does not involve the public agency entering into a contract and is “de minimis” while not including the expenditure of funds, the public agency may take official action; and
  3. New Business During a Meeting – in the event that a meeting attendee brings a matter to the attention of the public agency during a meeting which is not on the agenda, the public agency is permitted to take official action, but only to refer the matter to staff for further research to add to a later agenda, or, similarly to the above exception, the public agency may take action if the matter is deemed “de minimis,” will not require the public agency to expend funds, and does not involve the public entity entering into a contract or agreement.

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.

No Changes: Who is Subject to the Sunshine Act in PA

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.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.