The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 1564, which directly impacts the ability of certain municipalities to hold meetings remotely, without the need for a physical quorum. Additionally, the law provides for the temporary staying of approvals for certain development applications during the period of a disaster declaration. At this point, the House Bill has been sent to the State Senate for review and potential voting. This summary is intended as a preliminary overview of the current language, and the final law, if passed, may contain amended provisions.
Under certain statutes, for example the Borough Code and Third-Class City Code, certain governmental entities were required to have a physical quorum present at the location of a meeting in order to transact municipal business. Although some members of the legislative body could participate remotely, a quorum of the members needed to be physically present. Other municipal codes, such as the First and Second Class Township Codes, do not contain this requirement, and all of the Board or Council members could participate in a meeting remotely.
House Bill 1564 creates a uniform law permitting all municipalities to conduct meetings remotely during a declared disaster or emergency when meeting in person could compromise the health and safety of the elected officials or the general public. The remote meeting must be conducted pursuant to the following requirements:
- The municipality must place notice of the meeting in the newspaper at least 24 hours prior to the meeting taking place, the notice must contain information as to how the public can obtain access to the remote meeting.
- The meeting participants must able to communicate with one another by, at the very least, audio. The participants must be able to hear the votes and comments of the other members and communicate with them.
- The municipality must permit public participation in the meeting “to the extent possible.”
- The municipality must post notice of the meeting, at least 24 hours in advance, on its website (if it has one) and the notice must contain information regarding the time of the meeting and information as to how the public could obtain remote participation in the meeting.
- The meeting itself must be live-streamed via a web or mobile based app or other form of transmission.
- The meeting must be recorded, and the recording must be made publicly available within 24 hours of the conclusion of the meeting on the municipality’s website, if applicable.
- A draft of the meeting’s minutes must be made available to the public within 48 hours of the conclusion of the meeting by posting a copy on the municipality’s website or by permitting the public to obtain copies at a publically accessible site within the municipality.
Pending Approval Deadlines During Disaster Declarations
House Bill 1564 also provides that if the final day for the approval or denial of any application, plat, plan or other submission for an “approval” as that term is defined in the Development Permit Extension Act, falls during a disaster or emergency dangerous to health or safety, the following shall apply:
- Notwithstanding any provision of law, charter or ordinance, for any approval received and pending action by a municipality or an agency or board of a municipality as of the date of the declaration of a disaster or emergency, the number of days provided to satisfy statutory time limits in review, hearing and decision on any application, plat, plan or submission shall be suspended or tolled as of the date of the disaster or emergency declaration and shall resume on the date following the termination of the disaster or emergency or the final extension thereof.
- The municipality shall notify in writing each applicant subject to this subsection of the disaster or emergency, the time extension set forth in this section and the right to a request as provided in paragraph (3). In no event shall a failure to receive the notice provided by this section affect the tolling of the number of days provided to satisfy statutory time limits for review, hearing and decisions.
- The applicant may request such meetings, hearings or proceedings as may be required by the law, charter or ordinance provisions governing the application, plat, plan or submission during the period of the disaster or emergency in accordance with the procedures in subsections (b), (c), (d) and (e). It shall be at the discretion of the municipality to proceed with the requests. If the municipality agrees and holds the proceedings, the applicant, the municipality and all other parties receiving actual notice of the proceedings waive any challenge to the proceedings under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5571.1 (relating to appeals from ordinances, resolutions, maps, etc.) or any other provision of law.
- For an approval granted by a municipality, or board or agency thereof, and in effect after the beginning of the disaster or emergency declaration, the running period of the approval shall be automatically suspended during the disaster or emergency and shall resume after the final termination of the disaster or emergency.
In plain language, this bill simply states that the time requirements under the Pennsylvania MPC are paused during the duration of a declared disaster or emergency. It permits Municipalities to proceed with hearings and meetings if it so chooses, but otherwise, Municipalities can defer any action until after the emergency has ended without risking a deemed approval being issued for any land development, variance, or other planning and zoning approval.
If, and when, the Senate passes this bill and the Governor signs it into law, our office will assist your municipality in interpreting its contents based upon your municipality’s circumstances.