Pending Legislation: HB 1564

April 3, 2020
By Alexis Wheeler
Posted in Public/Non-Profit and Education

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, Pennsylvania municipalities continue to have questions regarding how to best conduct business in an era of social distancing. These questions include whether public meetings may be conducted without a physical quorum and, if so, how to best tailor and disseminate notice of remote meetings. HB 1564, which proposes to amend Title 53 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, may be able to resolve some of these lingering uncertainties.

The major criticism of HB 1564 is that many municipalities are already on the same page in terms of best practices for conducting public meetings. Nonetheless, the bill could provide protection for municipalities following its procedures, while being broad enough to allow municipalities to figure out what works best for them. An undeniable benefit of the bill would be for boroughs, which unlike townships of the second class, are still required to establish a physical quorum at its meetings. A summary of the bill is set forth below.

  • USE OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS DEVICES.—In the case of a declaration of disaster or emergency by the Governor, where the disaster or emergency would render the conduct of a “public business” dangerous to the health or safety of its members or the public, the governing body may use telecommunication devices to exercise its powers. Such devices must be capable of two-way audio. No physical quorum is required.
  • PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AND NOTICE. – Public participation shall be allowed, to the extent possible, in a meeting conducted by telecommunications device.
    • Notice of a meeting conducted by telecommunications device shall be made on the public business’s website, if any, no later than 24 hours prior to the meeting.
    • Notice must alert the public of the meeting and of how to obtain remote participation in the meeting.
    • The meeting must be (1) live streamed; (2) recorded, with a recording made available to the public within 24 hours; or (3) recounted in draft minutes made available for public inspection with 48 hours.
  • NEWSPAPER NOTIFICATION.—Unless emergency circumstances arise making notice by newspaper untenable, the governing body shall, within 24 hours of the meeting, notify a newspaper of general circulation of the upcoming meeting and how remote access may be obtained.
  • RESOLUTION. – After the Governor’s declaration is lifted, the nature of the emergency and the powers exercised under these provisions must be memorialized by resolution of the governing body at the next regular meeting of the body.
  • EXISTING AND PENDING APPROVALS. – If the final day for an agency to make a determination on a plat, plan, or any other submission for an “approval” as defined under the Development Permit Extension Act falls during an emergency or disaster declaration described above, then:
    • The time limit for any action needed to finalize a decision on a request for approval (such as a hearing) shall be tolled as of the date of the declaration and shall resume when the declaration is lifted;
    • Notice of the foregoing stay shall be submitted to the applicant subject to the stay, failure of the applicant to receive said notice will not affect the stay;
    • Any timelines for an approval granted by an agency and in effect after the beginning of the declaration shall, likewise, be stayed.

On March 25, 2020, the bill passed unanimously in the House on third consideration. At the time of this blog post, HB 1564 is being considered by the Local Government Committee of the Senate. These matters are complicated, and the situation will continue to evolve.  If you have any questions, we suggest that you first consult your Solicitor.

Moreover, our public sector attorneys at SMGG are always available to serve as a resource, particularly at this time. Please contact Gretchen Moore at gmoore@smgglaw.com, Kathy Clark at kclark@smgglaw.comAlexis Wheeler at awheeler@smgglaw.com, or Alan Shuckrow at ashuckrow@smgglaw.com for assistance.