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Michigan Legislature Passes Bill to Extend Provisions for Public Bodies to Meet Remotely under the Open Meetings Act

On December 9, 2020, the Michigan Senate voted 36-1 to pass Senate Bill 1246 (2020), a bill to amend the Open Meetings Act and extend the dates during which public bodies can meet remotely for any reason until March 30, 2021. The House voted to pass the bill on December 16, 2021, by a vote of 94-13. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature. 

Extension of Time for Public Bodies to Conduct Remote Meetings

The Michigan Legislature has sent to the governor an amendment to the Open Meetings Act to permit a longer timeframe for public bodies to hold remote meetings. Under the proposed amendment, all public bodies can meet remotely until March 30, 2021. After March 30, electronic meetings must meet certain prerequisites in order to comply with the Open Meetings Act.

Comparison to Previous Open Meetings Act Amendment (SB 1108)

Before the proposed amendment, a public body could hold meetings electronically for any reason through December 31, 2020. Beginning January 1, 2021, and through December 31, 2021, the only permissible circumstances under which a public body could conduct an electronic meeting were the following:

  • To accommodate members of the public body absent due to military duty.
  • To accommodate members of the public body absent due to a medical condition.
  • During a statewide or local state of emergency or disaster where the public body usually meets or to accommodate a member of the public body who lives in the affected area.

A statewide or local state of emergency could be declared pursuant to law or charter by the governor, a local official, or the local governing body.

Reasons Required for Public Bodies to Conduct Remote Meetings After March 30

Under the new proposed legislation, public bodies could conduct meetings electronically through March 30, 2021, for any reason. From March 31, 2021, to December 31, 2021, a public body may conduct meetings electronically only for the reasons above.

The Open Meetings Act is otherwise unaffected by the amendment in terms of the requirements to publicly announce and reflect in the minutes of meetings the location of members participating remotely. Meetings must still be conducted in a manner that allows two-way communication for participants.

Who Can Declare a Local State of Emergency or Disaster?

In addition to the extension of permitted remote meetings, Senate Bill 1246 would allow a local administrative officer to declare a local state of emergency or disaster. It would also allow a state of emergency or disaster to be declared by local ordinance.

A chief administrative officer would have the ability to declare a local state of emergency or disaster without a public body needing to pass an ordinance by vote. This removes the procedural hurdle of a vote and would enable chief administrative officials to quickly enable public bodies to meet remotely.

A local state of emergency or disaster can otherwise be declared by an ordinance adopted by local government. Previously, a local state of emergency could only be declared by law or charter.

Conclusion

In summary, SB 1246, pending the governor’s signature, changes the Open Meetings Act to allow for the following:

  • Public bodies may meet electronically for any reason through March 30, of 2021.
  • After March 30, 2021 and until December 31, 2021, public bodies may hold electronic meetings to accommodate absent members due to a medical condition.
  •  After March 30, 2021 and until December 31, 2021, public bodies may hold electronic meetings during a local state of emergency or disaster in the area where the body usually meets, or to accommodate members who live in the affected area.
  • For purposes of the above exception, a local state of emergency or disaster can be declared by local ordinance or by a local chief administrative officer.

Our firm will continue to monitor updates to laws and regulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As always, please contact Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes PLC with any questions or concerns.

– Anthony Warren

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