Pennsylvania Public Records Act: Government agencies now require that the agenda be announced the day before the public meeting
Under the newly simplified public records law, Pennsylvanians will pay more attention to the topics and issues that local leaders plan to resolve at public meetings.
Earlier this week, Governor Tom Wolf signed bill Government agencies, school districts, and local municipalities are required to post the meeting agenda online at least 24 hours in advance. The law will take effect within 60 days.
The agenda of the meeting involving the quorum of elected officials lists the items and issues that the leaders plan to discuss Take formal action. Items not on the agenda can be proposed or discussed in the public comments section of the meeting. For example, if the school board is ready to discuss a new COVID-19 safety agreement, or the local municipality is expected to vote to increase property taxes, these items will be listed on the meeting agenda posted on the governing agency’s website at least one day in advance.
Although government agencies have Need to post the schedule of all public meetings Earlier this year, before this new law, Pennsylvania did not have a common practice to inform what will be discussed. Melissa Melewsky, a media lawyer at the Pennsylvania News Media Association, Tell PennLive.
This means that some leaders have published “skeleton” agendas with few details, some have published detailed agendas, and others have not provided residents with anything at all.
“This is to help prevent bad behavior by local authorities,” R-Fayette County Senator Patrick Stefano, the initiator of the bill, told PennLive.
By providing more notice of public meetings—and what will be discussed—Stefano hopes to increase the transparency and accountability of local and state governments. The bill was unanimously passed by members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The law changed Sunshine Act, Also known as the “Open Record Act”, which outlines the public’s right to know and attend in government procedures.
According to the new law, organizations cannot take formal action on any items on the agenda announced within 24 hours before the meeting. The memo states that there are some exceptions for emergencies and other situations.
yesterday, @GovernorTomWolf Sign SB554, sponsor @SenatorStefano, Amended the Sunshine Act
State government agencies, local municipalities, and school districts are required to post their agenda online no later than 24 hours before the start of the public meeting.
— Open records in PA (@OpenRecordsPA) July 1, 2021
“As Pennsylvanians become more and more interested in governance, we must ensure that they are provided with information about what will be seen as effective participation in issues that are important to them,” Stefano said.
Liz Wagenseller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, said that access to agenda information is critical to “promoting an open and knowledgeable dialogue between citizens and government officials.”
“The opportunity to review the agenda before the public meeting is a positive step towards increasing government accountability and citizen participation,” Wagenseller says.
If the elected officials are found deliberately Violates any part of the Sunshine Act, Including this new law, they face criminal charges and fines.
Open Record Office will Host a webinar on the Sunshine Act and the requirements of the new agenda July 14th at 10 am.