After the state budget was signed into law on June 30, 2011, Governor Corbett directed his attention to several items of legislation which had been pending on his desk. Within that legislation was Senate Bill 101 which proposed increasing the fines on elected officials who participate in closed door meetings with the intent and purpose of violating the open meeting requirements and other provisions of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act.
Under the prior Sunshine Act, violators were only subject to a fine of $100.00, not much of a deterrent. The amendments now provide that, for a first offense, penalties will still include the costs of prosecution but a fine could now range from a minimum of $100.00 to a maximum of $1,000.00, to be set in the discretion of the Court imposing the sentence. For a second and subsequent offense, in addition to the costs of prosecution, the fine could now range between a minimum of $500.00 to a maximum of $2,000.00, again in the discretion of the Court. Furthermore, the Sunshine Act amendments specifically prohibit the public body from paying or reimbursing the individual elected official for any fines or costs incurred due to the elected official’s violation of the Sunshine Act. The individual, not the public body, is personally at risk.
The potentially significantly higher fines and personal exposure must be seriously considered when discussing matters in executive session. Discussions in executive session under the Sunshine Act remain limited to personnel matters, negotiation strategies, purchase or lease of real property up to the time an option to purchase or lease is obtained, consulting with the attorney for the public body, and privileged or confidential information. All other matters must be discussed in public session, or the elected officials may be personally exposed to the increased penalties.
If you should have any questions or require any guidance regarding this matter, please feel free to contact Alfred Maiello at [email protected] or 412.242.4400.